Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

You deserve a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees that your employer many not harass you or subject you to a hostile work environment based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. In subsequent years, Congress has added to these protections with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals against discrimination based on disability, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals over 40 from age discrimination. The most recent additions have been the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which protects individuals from discrimination based on genetic information, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which expanded the rights of women to pursue claims for discriminatory compensation.

LIMITATIONS

There are only two substantial limitations on Title VII and the other laws mentioned above. First, an employer generally must have 15 employees in order to be subject to the law. The law applies to private employers with more than 15 employees, the federal government, state governments, local governments, non-profits, and just about any other organization you can think of.

The second limitation is time. Generally speaking, you have 180 days (including weekends and holidays) to report an incident of discrimination to the appropriate agency. It is critical that your charge is filed within this time limit.

WHAT ARE MY PROTECTIONS?

Discrimination laws protect you from “adverse employment actions” based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.

So, what’s an adverse employment action? It’s not just firing.

Adverse employment action is a broad term that includes most things that seem, quite simply, unfair. An adverse employment action could be one or more of many things, including but not limited to unfair reviews, suspensions, demotions, refusals to promote, refusals to hire, and many other instances of conduct that amount to you being treated differently than your coworkers.

These protections could also extend to you if you took part in someone else’s charge of discrimination and your employer is retaliating against you for your role in helping your coworker.

REMEDIES AND DAMAGES

Remedies for violations of the discrimination laws can include a variety of relief ranging from reinstatement to punitive damages.

The most common form of relief is back pay. This is simply the amount of income you lost by not having your job or as a result of the adverse employment action. For example, if the adverse action was a failure to promote, the back pay would likely include the difference between your current salary and the raise you did not receive. The court can also take into account any bonuses you may have missed or other compensation beyond wages that you may have lost the opportunity to obtain.

Front pay is another possibility. While the court technically has the ability to order your employer to reinstate you to your former position, the court more frequently orders the employer to pay wages for a certain period in the future as if you were still in that position.

Punitive damages are also available under discrimination laws. Punitive damages are exactly what they sound like – they are damages intended to punish the employer that violated the law. They are reserved for those cases where the employer acted with such reckless indifference to your rights that the employer should be punished for their actions.

There are other types of relief available, including injunctive relief and compensatory damages for medical expenses and/or emotional distress.

Finally, attorneys’ fees are available under some circumstances. If your case goes to trial or if you win on motion, you are able to seek your attorneys’ fees from the employer.

Section 1981 and 1983

In addition to Title VII, other aspects of the Civil Rights laws protect you at work, at school, in business, and your personal life, from discrimination and harassment. Title 42 of the United States Code prohibits any person from discriminating on the basis of race in the making and enforcing of contracts. Other sections of the law prohibit acts in violation of the civil rights of any individual at the hands of the government or those acting on behalf of the government, including the police, prisons, and detention centers.

Our lawyers regularly litigate these sorts of sensitive cases, and can represent you as you attempt to reclaim your rights.