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Discrimination Law

Many people believe they have a claim for employment discrimination because of unequal treatment as a result of nepotism, favoritism, personality conflicts, bullying or just plain unfairness. Merely having a bad boss does not necessarily give you any legal rights under U.S. law.

However, there are a variety of, often subtle, ways you can experience unlawful discrimination in the workplace. It’s a fine line sometimes. That’s why it’s so important to hire a qualified, experienced lawyer who will honestly assess your case and resolution options. Read on to learn which discrimination laws may address your situation, or give us a call at Cleveland Lehner Cassidy for a free phone consultation.

For more information and specific examples of discrimination, visit our Legal Library Resources page.

ADEA – Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Your life experiences, work achievements and job knowledge should be valued. As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, age discrimination promises to be more prevalent.

Employees over the age of 40 may get passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified employees, because management wants a younger, more energetic office environment or feels younger employees will be more productive and motivated. An employer laying off older employees to replace them with a younger workforce could be another example of age discrimination.

The ADEA protects against age-related job discrimination. If you feel you’ve been treated or dismissed unfairly due to your age, give us a call so we can review your rights and potential discrimination case.

Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 serves to protect various classes of U.S. citizens from discrimination and harassment, including freedom of discrimination based on your race, color, sex/gender, religion or national origin. Below is some key information on each of these protections. For additional details on each section and specific examples of discrimination, check out our Library Resources.
Race or Color Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits unlawful discrimination against all persons, no matter your color or race.

It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race or color in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training or any other privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. Associational race discrimination is also covered, meaning you cannot be discriminated against because you’re married to a member of a different race or have bi-racial children.

Racial discrimination is often subtle and difficult to detect. The lawyers at CLC know how to identify discrimination and can advise you whether you have a case.

National Origin Discrimination
Employers cannot treat job applicants or employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not). It also prohibits associational ethnicity discrimination — treating some unfavorably because they are married or associated with a person of a certain origin.

It’s unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Tell us your story, and we can tell you whether you have a case.

Religious Discrimination
Religious discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. An employer may not discriminate against you — including terminate your job, refuse to hire you or treat you differently than your co-workers — because of your religion.

In many circumstances, your employer may be required under federal or state law to accommodate your reasonable requests for time off work or other accommodations related to the practice of your religion. If your employer has failed to accommodate your reasonable religious accommodation request, or you’ve been harassed because of your religious practices, call us for a free evaluation.

Sex or Gender Discrimination
Much of gender discrimination at work is very subtle, and it can manifest in a multitude of ways. Quite often, the language of discrimination is as subtle as the act itself. A well-qualified woman might be passed over for a promotion or new job because she’s been told clients and co-workers feel more comfortable working with another employee.

Men can be victims of this type of discrimination as well. Sex discrimination can occur if employers or managers hold assumptions about what sort of work women and men are capable, or not capable, of doing, especially in those fields typically considered to be male or female jobs.

Another form of gender discrimination is inequity in pay. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”) prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. These days, both men and women work hard to support themselves and their families, and their pay should be based on their contributions and not on their gender.

Although the federal government has not made it illegal for private employers to discriminate against employees due to their sexual orientation, the law does prohibit discrimination against employees based on gender stereotypes. Employees who are treated differently because they do not conform to such stereotypes are protected under the law. The attorneys at CLC can help you determine whether or not you have a claim.


Pregnancy Discrimination
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment.

If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. Impairments resulting from pregnancy, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, may be considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation, such as leave or modifications that enable an employee to perform her job, for a disability related to pregnancy.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)
Genetic information could point to the likelihood of an individual getting a disease and may lead to restrictions or decisions related to the future health of an employee.

GINA prohibits employers from discriminating based on an employee or applicant’s genetic information. Technically speaking, it includes information about a person’s genetic tests, as well as genetic tests of a person’s family members. It refers to information regarding the sign of a condition or disease in an individual’s family history. Genetic information also includes an individual’s use or request of genetic services or care.

It is unlawful for an employer or potential employer to disclose genetic information about employees or applicants to third parties. All genetic information must be held in a separate, confidential medical file in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Civil Rights Act of 1866 – Section 1981

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled employees may file suit under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for discrimination in employment. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 sets out similar protections, it sets a shorter deadline for filing lawsuits and limits the amount of money an employee who successfully sues can receive.

Section 1981 of that statute confers a series of legal rights equally to all citizens, including the right to contract and to hold and convey property. In the employment context, it applies to the formation of the employment relationship and all aspects of that relationship, or its termination. This applies even if an employee is at-will and there’s no formal written contract or specific terms of employment. It is important to hire counsel that has experience litigating Section 1981 claims in federal court, like the attorneys at CLC.

ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act Disability Discrimination

People with disabilities face unique challenges in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants with disabilities in all aspects of employment. It also protects employees from retaliation when they enforce their rights under the law.

People with disabilities experience common patterns of discrimination. They suffer high unemployment rates, are confronted with prejudices regarding their productivity, and are often excluded from the job market. They also face discrimination at the hiring stage.

Disability discrimination occurs when an employee with a visible or non-visible disability is treated less favorably than other employees or job applicants because of his or her condition. This protection includes people with mental or physical impairments that substantially limits a major life activity, an employee with a history of impairment, and an employee who the employer regards as disabled — even if the employee is not actually disabled.

The ADA also protects employees from associational disability discrimination, which occurs when an employer subjects an employee to disparate treatment or an adverse employment action because they’re associated with a disabled individual, like a child, spouse. Family members on the employee’s health insurance policy may cost the company additional money, which could result in termination of the associated employee.

Failure to Accommodate: If needed, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation — an adjustment or modification that allows the employee to do their job — to a qualified employee with a disability. After a request for accommodation is made, parties must begin the interactive process to determine what, if any, accommodation should be provided. This includes but is not limited to working hours, type of workstation, means of getting to work, and medical accommodations.

Rehabilitation Act: Another law that protects disabled employees is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits federal employers and employers who receive federal funding from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.

The ADA provides many protections for the workplace, but, in doing so, creates a complicated legal process for employees to navigate. Whether you have been subjected to discrimination on the basis of your disability and whether your employer owes you an accommodation are fact sensitive questions that can only be determined on a case by case basis. The attorneys at CLC can help you understand and enforce your rights.

Harassment

Not every type of unwanted behavior in the workplace constitutes harassment. The law differentiates between minor, isolated incidents and behavior that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA.

Sexual Harassment
This type of sex-based discrimination includes “unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It also includes requests for sexual favors in exchange for hiring, promotion, benefits, or continued employment. This is known as “quid pro quo” harassment. The victim, as well as the harasser, can be a woman or a man, and the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex of the harasser. Additionally, the victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone offended by the harassing conduct. The harasser can be a supervisor, coworker, and even a non-employee. See our Library Resources for specific examples of sexual harassment.

Other Types of Harassment
It is illegal to harass employees on the basis of their race, color, national origin, age, or disability. This can include behavior such as racial slurs and derogatory statements about religious practices and customs. Disability harassment can include exclusion from work events and projects or negative statements about an employee’s physical, mental or emotional state. When faced with harassment, the law requires employees to report the behavior to their employer. Failure to do so may result in an inability to pursue a harassment claim. The attorneys at CLC can advise you to ensure your legal rights are secured when pursuing a harassment claim. Contact us now for your free phone case evaluation.


Retaliation
The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability also prohibit retaliation against individuals that oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in investigations into discrimination and harassment. Workplace retaliation is any adverse action an employer takes against an employee in response to a complaint that employee has made about discrimination or harassment.

Not all complaints made in the workplace are covered under these laws. An employee must engage in “protected activity” to be afforded protection under the anti-retaliation laws. Protected activity is opposition to a practice believed to be unlawful discrimination, even if the practice is later determined not to be unlawful. Protected activity also includes participating in an employment discrimination investigation or proceeding.

Federal anti-retaliation laws protect employees who complain on behalf of themselves, as well as other employees. If you’ve engaged in protected activity and believe you are now being retaliated against, call us.

Other Retaliation
In addition to the federal anti-discrimination laws, there are other federal laws and judge made laws that prohibit retaliation in the workplace. Specifically, the FMLA and the False Claims Act have anti-retaliation revisions. Indiana common law also prohibits employers from certain types of retaliation, including retaliating against employees for exercising their worker’s compensation rights (Frampton) and from refusing to engage in unlawful activities for which the employee may be held liable (McClanahan).