Have you been discriminated against in the workplace and need a lawyer? The United States has strong laws which make discriminating against certain groups of employees or potential employees illegal. These laws prohibit discrimination in regards to age, disability, religion, race, skin color, national origin, sex, and pregnancy.
In this article, we’re going to teach you some general information about employment discrimination law. This information will help when you meet with an employment discrimination lawyer at an initial consultation. We’re also going to explain different ways that an employment discrimination lawyer might be able to help your situation. Finally, at the end of the article, we link to our guide which lays out the specific steps to take on how to get a lawyer.
General Information On Employment Discrimination Law
Before we proceed, you need to know that the information provided on this webpage is only general information about employment discrimination law. It is not legal advice and it is not even specific advice. Instead, it is general information to help you prepare for a consultation with an employment discrimination lawyer. At the consultation, the lawyer can give you legal advice on your specific situation.
Employment Discrimination Laws
An employment discrimination attorney should explain to you the different laws that make workplace discrimination illegal. Then the attorney should help identify which law applies to your specific situation and guide you through its rules and exceptions. Here is a list of the most common laws regarding workplace discrimination.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The ADEA protects against discrimination at work based on age. Under the ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based on age. The big exception is that it only applies to workers that are at least 40 years old or older.
For example, if an employer refused to hire someone that was 65 because they were “too old” that would be illegal. However, it would not be illegal for an employer to hire someone that was 20 because they were “too young.” This is an important distinction to keep in mind.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
The first thing that comes to mind when mentioning the Civil Rights Act isn’t workplace discrimination. But surprisingly, the Civil Rights Act does have a section that makes employment discrimination against certain groups of workers illegal.
When you speak to an employment discrimination lawyer about this, they will refer to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate based on religion, race, skin color, national origin, and sex. Similar to the ADEA, discrimination is only illegal if it is against an employee or job applicant.
Americans with Disability Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is one of the more commonly known laws protecting against discrimination. This law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against those with disabilities.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects against discrimination at work based on, you guessed it, pregnancy. This law makes certain actions by an employer illegal when they are treated unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.
Prohibited Discriminatory Conduct at Work
There are several types of conduct that constitute discrimination. The following general information covers these types of conduct at a high level. You need to speak to your lawyer so they can go into specific detail and give you specific advice on your situation.
Purposeful discrimination is when an employer, employee, co-worker, or customer, intended to discriminate. Discrimination can occur when they refuse to hire because of some prohibited reason. It can also occur with respect to firing, pay, employment terms, conditions, or any other privileges afforded to employees.
The key to purposeful discrimination is
Unintentional discrimination is when an action of an employer was not intended to create a discriminatory impact, but it did. Even though discrimination was unintentional, it is still illegal.
An example of unintentional discrimination having a discriminatory impact could be unintentionally failing to hire someone because of their age. It could also be doing some action that results in inadvertently depriving an individual of employment opportunities because of their age.
Harassment at work is another category of prohibited discrimination. Harassment includes offensive and derogatory remarks about a person based on their protected status (i.e., age, race, color, sex, national origin, etc). Harassment exists when the actions are severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Also, the harasser doesn’t have to be a supervisor and can be a fellow employee, co-worker, or even a non-employee customer.
Employment Discrimination Categories
Not every action that appears to be employment discrimination is actually illegal. Actions must fall within one of the covered categories. The following covered categories are the most common areas of prohibited employment discrimination. Also, the information on these categories is just general information and you should talk with your lawyer because they can give you specific legal advice on your situation.
Discrimination Based on Age
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or potential employees, 40 years or older, in all areas of employment. These areas of employment include hiring, firing, pay, benefits, promotions, training, or anything other term or condition of the job. Also, in some situations, state law may offer protection where the ADEA doesn’t.
Discrimination Based on Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or potential employees, who have a disability, in all areas of employment. The discrimination can occur during hiring, firing, pay, benefits, promotions, training, or anything other term or condition of the job.
Before someone can prove discrimination based on disability, they first must show they have a recognized disability. The ADA acknowledges both physical and mental disabilities that substantially limit a significant life activity (ex., walking, talking, seeing, hearing, learning). Also, the ADA recognizes disabilities in individuals with a prior history.
Discrimination based on disability can occur in many different ways at a job. Some of these ways include applying to the position, hiring, promotions, firing, compensation, training, or any other privileges that come with the career.
Discrimination Based on Religion
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination at work based on religion. The Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based on their religious beliefs. These religious beliefs include formal religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, etc., but also an individual’s strongly held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.
It is also illegal to limit, segregate, or classify employees in any way which would deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely affect the status of an employee based on their religion or religious beliefs.
Discrimination Based on Race or Color
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination at work based on race and skin color. The Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee because of their race or characteristics resulting from their race. Illegal discrimination can involve the texture of their hair, the color of their skin, race-based facial features, complexion, etc.
Also, discrimination can occur if the policy has a negative impact on people of a particular race or color and it’s not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business. It is also possible to discriminate against someone because they are married to someone of a particular race or skin color.
Discrimination Based on National Origin
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination at work based on national origin. The Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based on what part of the world they are from, including the ethnicity or accent.
It is possible to discriminate against someone because they are married to someone of a particular race or skin color.
Discrimination based on national origin also doesn’t require the person who inflicted the discrimination to be of a different national origin than the individual discriminated.
Discrimination Based On Sex
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination at work based on sex. The act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee because of their sex, which includes their gender identity or sexual orientation.
The law also prohibits policies that, even though they apply to everyone regardless of sex, end up having a negative impact on the employment of people of certain sex if they are not job-related or necessary to the operation of a business.
Sexual harassment is also prohibited by this section of the law. Prohibited activities include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other types of verbal harassment. The harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature.
One last point is that the law doesn’t require the victim and aggressor to be the opposite sex. It is possible for a woman to sexually harass another woman or a man to sexually harass another man.
Discrimination Based on Pregnancy
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination at work based on pregnancy. The act makes it illegal to treat an employee who is a woman unfairly because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It is also illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy in any aspect of employment. This includes hiring, firing, compensation, promotions, job assignments, benefits, or anything else relating to employment.
If a woman is unable to perform her job due to her pregnancy, the employer is required by law to treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. In addition, impairments that result from the pregnancy may constitute disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In these situations, the employer would have to provide reasonable accommodation as required by the ADA.
Federal employees may have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, under the FMLA, a new parent is eligible for 12 weeks of leave (paid using accrued vacation time otherwise unpaid) that they can use to care for their new child. There are some stipulations such as having to have worked for the employer at least 12 months prior to taking said leave.
Employment Discrimination Exceptions
Even though an action may appear to be employment discrimination, it may not if an exception applies.
The laws above only apply to businesses with more than a certain number of employees. In many states, it is 15 or more employees (or 20 for age discrimination). However, there are some states that lower this limit. If you are in doubt, you should ask your employment discrimination lawyer to find the law in your state.
Employee Must Be Qualified
Before someone can allege age discrimination, they must show they are qualified for the job. Whether someone is qualified requires looking at the requirements, work experience, and skills needed for a job and comparing them to the individual’s education, work experience, and skill.
Employee Must be Able to Perform Essential Duties
In addition to qualifications, an individual must be able to perform the essential duties of the job without more than reasonable accommodation before they can allege discrimination. Essential duties are duties required by the job (compared to non-essential duties). What does that mean? It depends. You should talk with your employment discrimination lawyer for specific legal advice on your situation.
Notes Regarding Reasonable Accommodations
In a situation where an individual is both qualified and capable of performing the essential duties of a job, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to an individual that falls within one of the protected categories above.
Examples of reasonable accommodations can include making an existing facility used by employees accessible and usable based on their disability or protected class. It could also mean making an accommodation for the employee, such as job restructuring, modified work schedules, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices. In addition, it could include adjustments to exams or training policies, providing qualified readers or interpreters, or other similar accommodations.
The test for whether an accommodation is “reasonable” is based on expense and hardship to the employer. If making an accommodation for the employee would come at a significant expense or create an undue hardship for the employer, then the accommodation would not be reasonable. Factors a court would look at when making this determination would be the nature and cost of the accommodation, financial resources both of the facility and company, and type of operation of the company and functions of the employees.
How an Employment Discrimination Lawyer Can Help
An employment discrimination attorney can help in many different ways. Here are a few ways
Help Explain the Law
The best thing a lawyer can do is help explain the law as it relates to your specific circumstances. In many situations, what you thought was illegal discrimination was simply unfair treatment and not unlawful. A lawyer can help identify whether you fall within the protected classes of individuals and then determine whether what you experienced was illegal discrimination.
Help Gather Evidence
In many instances, the key to winning an employment discrimination case is with the correct evidence. Lawyers can help you in many ways. A good employment discrimination lawyer can:
- Explain what evidence is necessary to prove discrimination.
- Help collect the relevant evidence.
- Provide the required forms and documents needed by a court.
- Identify witnesses who can help establish that the alleged discrimination occurred.
Evidence that they can help you collect can include:
- Employee policies and training manuals.
- Records from hospitals and other medical information.
- Any employee-personnel file kept by your employer.
- Logs of the event that were created by an employer or employee.
Help Navigate Options
You might think that the first thing a lawyer does is file a lawsuit. This type of thinking is incorrect because filing a lawsuit is one of the last steps a lawyer might take. An experienced lawyer will explain your options and lay out the strengths and weaknesses of each option.
Help Mail a Letter to Your Employer
Lawsuits often waste time and money. If an employer is willing to settle up-front then why waste the resources? An immediate settlement is entirely possible without having to file a lawsuit. However, when individuals do this on their own, sometimes their employer doesn’t take them seriously. In addition, if the employer retaliates, it could make things difficult.
But when an employer receives a letter from an attorney, they instantly know that things just got serious. Now that a lawyer is involved, there could be serious consequences if the company doesn’t take things seriously.
Help Initiate a Claim with the EEOC
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the branch of federal government which enforces employment discrimination laws. In most cases, before someone can sue, they must first file a complaint with the EEOC. After filing a complaint, the EEOC will analyze the claim and can assist in reaching a settlement with the employer without having to sue. However, if they deny the claim, then the claimant is entitled to go forward with a lawsuit against the employer.
Help with Mediation
Mediation is another option a lawyer could recommend as an option. It involves a third-party called a mediator. The mediator will work with both parties and attempt to reach a compromise. A worker might not get as much as they could with a lawsuit, but its also easier to reach a settlement at mediation. Whereas a lawsuit is all or nothing kind of thing.
Help Bring a Lawsuit
Ultimately, a lawyer might recommend bringing a lawsuit against the employer or individual that caused the discrimination. A lawsuit might sound like the ideal situation, but in many cases, it is not. Winning a discrimination lawsuit requires a lot of evidence, probably several witnesses, and expert testimony. This can get expensive and can be hard to prove. But, with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer, the chances of winning at trial can increase.
How To Get An Employment Discrimination Lawyer
If you’ve come this far, then you should have enough general information about employment discrimination law to assist a lawyer in advising you about your specific situation. Also, you should have a general idea about how an employment discrimination lawyer can help your situation.
But before you start searching for a local employment discrimination lawyer, there is one more step you should take. We highly recommend reading our guide about how to get a lawyer. In the guide, you will learn many things about how to get a lawyer. Here is an example of what you will learn:
- How to find a lawyer experienced with employment discrimination law.
- How to research the lawyer’s background.
- Questions to ask before an initial consultation.
- Questions to ask during an initial consultation.
- Observations to record about the lawyer
- How to decide whether to hire the lawyer.
Once you read this guide, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer to help with your employment discrimination needs.