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Employment Matters

Are You Facing Discrimination on the Job?

American law protects a wide variety of people from discrimination at work. But what should you do if you think you’re facing discrimination in the workplace? The exact answer depends on the facts of the case, and we can guide you there. After a quick overview of the law, we'll discuss some of the possible steps you might take.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal laws apply all over the country, and protect a wide range of people. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin or religion. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based on age (if forty or over). Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s union activity. Generally, the law regulates all aspects of work, including hiring, firing, promotions, job duties, wages, benefits, and reviews.

What Is Prohibited

The law only prohibits discrimination when it is based on a person’s protected status—under federal law, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability or union activity. Thus, if an employer makes a decision because of an employee’s race, that employer has engaged in prohibited discrimination. Paying a worker lower wages than other employees because that worker is African-American violates Title VII. But paying a worker lower wages than other employees because that worker is performing different kinds of job duties does not violate Title VII. The question is whether the difference in treatment is based on the employee’s protected status. Different treatment based on protected status is called intentional discrimination or disparate treatment.

Title VII also prohibits conduct that has the effect of discriminating against individuals in a protected class, even if the employer’s reason for the different treatment is not based on protected class. For example, an employer may decide to hire only applicants who do not have custody of preschool age children. On its face the reason for the employer’s hiring decision is not a protected class reason. However, the effect of this policy is to disproportionately screen out women applicants as compared to male applicants because more women are custodial parents. This policy, therefore, would have a discriminatory effect, also called disparate impact. Disparate impact discrimination is also forbidden by Title VII unless the employer can prove that the policy is required by business necessity and is significantly related to the requirements of the job.

The ADA defines discrimination not only in terms of disparate treatment and disparate impact but also in terms of a refusal to provide reasonable accommodation to an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.

Steps to Take

If you think you have been discriminated against in violation of the law, bring your complaint directly to the attention of the employer and attempt to resolve the problem on an informal basis. The employer may not be aware that individuals within its organization are discriminating, or the employer may want to address your complaint and fix the problem.

If, however, you want to pursue a legal remedy, you should get expert advice and act relatively quickly. Anti-discrimination laws have strict time limits for making a claim. The federal laws require employees to file a complaint first with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit in court. In some circumstances an employee is also required to file a complaint with the state agency charged with enforcing the state anti-discrimination laws. For claims arising under the NLRA, employees are required to file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Lastly, if fired or not hired for discriminatory reasons, you should look for another job. Do so even if it seems that you are entitled to the former job. If you do not actively seek other work, it appears as though you are not seriously interested in employment. This can weaken your claim and may limit any award of back pay.

Anti-Retaliation Provisions

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you because you have participated in enforcement procedures. Protected participation includes filing a charge, testifying at a hearing or assisting the government in the investigation. Protection applies not only to current employees but also to former employees and applicants. Thus, it is illegal for an employer to give a former employee a negative job reference because the employee filed an EEOC or NLRB charge. Parallel anti-retaliation protections may also exist under West Virginia law.

Contact Us

If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination at work, please contact us for a free consultation by filling out our contact form or by calling us at (304) 574-2727. We look forward to hearing from you.