Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace
You deserve a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. State and federal laws like the Virginia Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantee that your employer may not harass you or subject you to a hostile work environment based on protected categories like race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, and/or status as a veteran.
These protections have come from a variety of laws over the last sixty years, including:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals against discrimination based on disability;
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals over the age of forty (40) from age discrimination;
- 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 sex-based discriminatory compensation.
Through these laws, employees are generally protected from “adverse employment actions” and “hostile work environments” based on the protected categories outlined above.
Adverse employment action is a broad term that extends beyond just termination of employment to include things like: unfair reviews, suspensions, demotions, refusals to promote, refusals to hire, and many other instances of conduct that amount to an employee being treated differently than their coworkers.
These protections also extend to employees who are retaliated against for complaining to their employer about discrimination on the basis of a protected class, as well as to employees who suffer consequences for supporting someone else’s claims of discrimination.Limitations
Not all employers are required to adhere to protection against discrimination and harassment provided by these laws. By way of example:
An employer must have at least six employees before the anti-discrimination protections found under the Virginia Human Rights Act apply.
Under Title VII, an employer must generally have at least fifteen employees for their employees to be protected from discrimination and harassment. Title VII also applies to the federal government, state governments, local governments, non-profits, and many other employers.
Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer must have at least twenty employees for the protections of the Act to apply to its employees
Generally speaking, an employee who has been subjected to discrimination in violation of these laws will have 300 days (including weekends and holidays) to report the incident or pattern of discrimination to the appropriate administrative agency. It is critical that an employee’s signed charge setting forth their claims against their employer is filed within this time limit.Remedies and Damages
An employee who has been subjected to discrimination in violation of these protections may be entitled to a variety of relief.
The most common form of relief is back pay. This is the amount of income the employee lost as a result of the adverse employment action taken by their employer against them.
- Example: If an employer failed to promote an employee based on that employee belonging to a protected class, that employee pay be entitled to back pay equal to the different between their current salary and the raise they would have received had they been promoted, if not for the illegal discrimination.
A court may also take into account any bonuses an employee may have been deprived of or other compensation beyond wages that an employee may have lost the opportunity to obtain as a result of their employer’s discrimination.
Front pay is another possibility. Front pay is often ordered in lieu of the employer reinstating the employee it discriminated against to their former position. This relief is composed of future wages an employee would have made had they continued in their 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 an employee’s 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 that results from discrimination or harassment by an employer.
Finally, attorneys’ fees are available under many circumstances. Employees who prevail in their case may seek their attorneys’ fees from the employer under most employment laws.
Contact us if you believe you have been discriminated against by your employer on the basis of a protected class in violation of these protections. Our lawyers regularly litigate these sorts of sensitive cases and can represent you as you attempt to reclaim your rights.