Job discrimination do I have any legal recourse?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have been the victim of workplace discrimination. I am wondering what type of legal recourse I have or what steps I need to take to combat this situation?” 

Workplace Discrimination Overview

Workplace discrimination can take many forms. In fact, it can include discrimination in any employment action such as firing, hiring, demoting, treating employees unfairly, allowing pay disparity, or promoting based on a certain prejudice.

To understand workplace discrimination and what may or may not constitute such action workers need to review state as well as federal laws. In fact, there are a half dozen federal laws which prohibit workplace discrimination in a myriad of ways. Some of the more important federal laws and regulations include the following:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • American with Disabilities Act
  • Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Act
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act

Steps to take to combat workplace discrimination

  1. Understand what is discrimination as defined under state and federal laws.

If you have been fired, demoted, or passed over for a job it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it might have been due to workplace discrimination. Unfortunately, without a thorough understanding of what is and is not prohibited under federal law, it’s difficult to know for sure.

  1. Identify why your employer did what they did.

Employers may have a variety of reasons for doing what they do. Some reasons may seem harsh, ignorant, stupid or just plain mean. There are a variety of reasons and motivations for employment actions, however, which are not illegal.

For example, it is not illegal for an employer to fire you. In fact, employers can generally fire you for any reason except for those reasons explicitly stated under federal or state law. To prove discrimination in a firing you would need to prove that the employer’s reasons and motivations for terminating you were illegal. Illegal motivations for firing you could include your gender, race, ethnicity, disability, national origin age, or familial status.

  1. Gather facts about the employment actions.

Proving workplace discrimination will be very difficult unless your employer made a statement or took some action that is glaringly illegal. If you have been fired, you will need information about your replacement and whether other employees who are not in a protected class kept their jobs. If you were not hired but others who were not in a protected class were hired, you will need more information about the hiring patterns of your employer.

  1. Hire an employment lawyer.

Filing a discrimination or civil rights case is complicated. It’s unlikely you will win your case without sound legal counsel from the right attorney. Like personal injury lawyers, however, civil rights attorneys generally work on a contingency fee basis, which means they will not get paid if they cannot win your case. For this reason, civil rights lawyers are very particular about the cases they accept.

  1. Understand the statute of limitations for a discrimination case.

Before making any decisions about your case you need to review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website (EEOC). Although there is a statute of limitations for filing all types of injury claims, anti-discrimination claims must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of your employer's decision to terminate or not hire. The EEOC will evaluate the claim and will notify you if you have the right to sue the employer. If permission is granted, the discrimination suit must be filed within 90 days of the date stated on the letter.

Bottom Line:

Unless your employer has done something blatantly illegal or has a pattern of illegal employment actions it can be difficult to win a discrimination claim. With that said, if you strongly believe you have been the victim of discrimination, review state and federal laws and discuss your case with an employment lawyer.

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