Employment discrimination is a broad term that encompasses a number of laws, both at a federal and state level, designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, or age in the hiring, firing, and general employment of individuals. More recently, employment discrimination laws have been expanded to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In federal law, Section 1981 of the U.S. Code provides definitions for what constitutes employment discrimination, as well as potential damages that an employee could receive. In addition to Section 1981 of the U.S. Code, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expanded employment discrimination laws to include other instances of harassment in the workplace.
The framework for brining an employment discrimination lawsuit when an applicant was rejected or excluded from the hiring process is well established, and requires that the plaintiff prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence. First, the plaintiff must show that he or she is a member of a protected class of employees. Each discrimination law will provide the classes of people it is designed to protect, and most include sex, race, religion, national origin, age, and physical disability. Second, the plaintiff must show that he or she was qualified for the position that the employer was attempting to fill. Third, the plaintiff must show that he or she was rejected or not hired for the job. Finally, the plaintiff must show that the position remained open and that the employer continued looking for applications with the qualifications that the plaintiff displayed.
These elements can be met in a number of different situations, and generally occur in a select few situations including:
- Age Discrimination: federal law applies to those who are 40 years or older, while some state laws protect those under the age of 40 as well. Often times, employers won’t hire someone that is older than 40, which could be basis for bringing an employment discrimination suit.
- Disability Discrimination: federal and state law protects those with disabilities. Some employers will treat an employee unfavorably if he or she has a history of a disability. In addition, the law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, so long as it wouldn’t cause undue hardship on the employer.
- Race Discrimination: federal and state laws protect against discrimination on the basis of race. Race discrimination can also include unfavorable treatment of an employee because that employee is married to or associated with someone of a certain race. In addition, race discrimination can still occur even when the employer involved in the discriminator treatment and the employee are of the same race.
- Religious Discrimination: federal and state law protect against discrimination on the basis of religion. While these laws certainly apply to more traditional or large organized religions, the law also includes those who have sincerely held ethical, moral, or religious beliefs. In addition, an employer is required to accommodate certain religious dress and grooming, so long as it does not cause undue hardship on the employer.
- Sex Discrimination: federal and state law protect against discrimination on the basis of sex. Sex discrimination also includes unfavorable treatment of an employee because of his or her association with a certain group that promotes issues of a certain sex.
Each of these categories of employment discrimination include a wide variety of situations in which the discrimination could occur. These situations include, but are not limited to, hiring, firing, pay, job or location assignments, promotions, specialized job training, benefits, or other terms of employment.
Once an employee is successful in a lawsuit, the damages could be extensive. Compensatory damages, or damages meant to make up for the loss the employee suffered, could include a variety of factors including lost pay. In addition to compensatory damages, many courts award punitive damages, or damages intended to punish the defendant for his or her actions.
If you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of employment discrimination, it is important to contact an attorney to see whether or not you have a claim. At Altman & Altman LLP, we understand that each employment discrimination claim is different, and will help guide you through the entire process. We offer friendly lawyers that will answer any questions you might have about your claim. A consultation with an attorney is free, and we are available 24 hours a day. To schedule your free consultation, contact Altman & Altman at 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 (toll free) or contact us online.