How do I begin legal action to investigate discrimination in my workplace?

Investigating a workplace discrimination

Employees are protected against discrimination by a variety of Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws (EEO). Laws which protect employees and are enforced by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) include the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects employees against unequal pay discrimination, and Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which protects employees who are disabled.

There are additional federal and state laws which also regulate a number of prohibitions for specific personnel practices and are designed to promote overall fairness in employment.

Employment Discrimination what is it?

Recently on our employment forum a user asked, “If I have been discriminated against by my employer what legal recourse do I have to stop the discrimination?”

Above we discussed the federal laws which govern discriminatory actions in the workplace, but before legal action is sought it’s important to understand what the federal government defines as discrimination.

According to these federal laws, discrimination can include:

  • Discriminatory hiring and firing practices
  • Discriminatory compensation, assignments, or classification of employees
  • Discriminatory recruitment and testing
  • Discriminatory training, pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
  • Harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age
  • Retaliation against employees who help with an investigation about discrimination
  • Employment practices which discriminate based on sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities
  • Discrimination based on ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics
  • Sex discrimination including harassment or creating a hostile work environment
  • Failure to make a reasonable accommodation to persons with a disability including job restructuring or a modification of work schedules

Is my job covered by the federal EEOC laws?

Title VII, the ADA (Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA)), and GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) specifically apply to all private employers, state and local governments and educational institutions, assuming they have fifteen or more employees.

According to the EEOC, The ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), however, applies to all private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local governments (including school districts), employment agencies and labor organizations.

If your employer meets one of these descriptions they are legally required to obey EEOC discrimination laws. If they do not, you may still be protected under state or local anti-discrimination laws.

Discrimination what can I do?

If your employer is currently violating federal discrimination laws you may be able to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To contact the EEOC you can call 1-800-669-4000 or visit the nearest EEOC office for more information on specific procedures for filing a charge.

The EEOC will need your name, address, and phone number. They will also need information about your employer, a description of the alleged violation, and the date of the violation. Charges must be made within 180 days of the potential violation (under some conditions the statute of limitations can be extended).

Can I file an employment lawsuit?

If the discriminatory action is a violation enforced by the EEOC (with the exception of laws under the Equal Pay Act), you will have to file the discrimination charge with the EEOC prior to filing a private discrimination claim in court.

Additionally, there are Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) in the states which may also have responsibilities to enforce certain state and local discrimination laws. If you file a claim at the local level and the violation is also covered by a federal law, the FEPA will dual file the claim with the EEOC and vice versa.

If after reviewing the state, federal, and local laws you still have questions about your rights, talk to an employment lawyer for more information.

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