Even though there are state and federal laws in place which prohibit organizations, governments or private persons from discriminating against others due to specific characteristics, that doesn’t mean that workplace discrimination is not a relatively common occurrence. Unfortunately, in many cases, employment discrimination can be difficult to define and even more difficult to prove. If your supervisor, boss or employer exhibits behaviors that indicate he or she believes they have control over a specific aspect of your life, then employment discrimination has likely occurred. By the same token, if your employer identifies you specifically as a person who belongs to a group that is protected under the law due to a certain characteristic, you are likely to be discriminated against. Finally, if your employer uses his control to treat you unjustly simply because you are a member of a group the law considers to be protected then workplace discrimination has occurred.
What is a Protected Group?
You may wonder what constitutes a protected group. The laws have defined those who qualify under a protected group as encompassing a person’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation (only in certain states), religion, age, disability or pregnancy. In other words, your employer cannot discriminate against you because you are a woman working in a profession that was in the past limited by men. You cannot be discriminated against because you are a Baptist working among Catholics, or because you have immigrated to the United States from any other country. Your race or color may not be held against you, nor can you be discriminated against because you are either significantly older—or younger—than your co-workers. You cannot lose your job simply because you are pregnant although your employer may have to make certain accommodations for your pregnancy. In other words, your employer is bound by law to judge you only on your work performance, not on any other basis.
Proving Employment Discrimination
Should you find yourself having to prove you were discriminated against in your workplace you will first have to show you are indeed a member of a protected class. If you failed to obtain a job because of that distinction you must prove you were qualified for the job the employer was hiring for, that your application was rejected and that the position remained open despite your qualifications while the employer sought other applicants with qualifications equal to your own. In the case of a firing, the employer may attempt to show he or she was simply downsizing and you were an unfortunate casualty or that you were not performing your duties according to your employer’s standards. In these cases, your attorney must prove these excuses are just that—excuses or pretexts. Statistics may be useful in a discrimination suit in that if your attorney can show your employer consistently hires less qualified white, male, Lutheran, thirty-five-year-olds then your basis for claims of discrimination are more likely to fly.
Protection Against Harassment and Retaliation
Not only are you protected against unlawful hiring and firing practices you are also protected against harassment by your employer or co-worker, particularly if your employer is well aware you are being harassed due to a specific protected characteristic. Further, if your employer is engaging in retaliatory behaviors against you because you reported prior acts of discrimination, filed a lawsuit or participated in an investigation regarding illegal practices, you are protected from this behavior under the law.
Why You Need an Attorney
Employment discrimination claims can be very complex due to the variation of procedural laws in your particular residence. An experienced attorney can help you with the filing deadlines which are specific to your claim, and because the EEOC can take a considerable amount of time to get to your claim, your attorney can also investigate other possible remedies. You should never sign a waiver or accept a severance package without first discussing your situation with an attorney and you should not talk to anyone else prior to speaking with a qualified lawyer.