Workplace discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfavorably because of one or more factors, such as race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
A number of federal laws prohibit discrimination against a job applicant or an employee during a variety of work situations including hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages and benefits:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex and to retaliate against an employee for going forward with a claim for discrimination.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA): Prohibits sex-based wage discrimination.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA): Protects employees or future employees who are 40 or older from discrimination.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): Makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability from employment or during employment.
In addition, the Florida Civil Rights Acts offers similar protections.
Compensatory and punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving intentional discrimination based on a person's race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), religion, disability, or genetic information.
Compensatory damages pay for out-of-pocket expenses caused by the discrimination (such as costs associated with a job search or medical expenses) and compensate for any emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life).
Back pay and front pay may be awarded. Back pay is money for lost wages and benefits up until the date of the resolution of the case. Front pay is money for lost wages and benefits going forward.
Punitive damages may be awarded to punish an employer who has committed an especially malicious or reckless act of discrimination.
Finally, the court may award attorney's fees and costs.
Q. Can my employer fire me without a good reason?
A. Unless you have an employment contract, your employment is likely “at will.” This means you can be fired for a valid reason, no reason, or even a bad reason (meaning a reason that makes no sense for the company’s well-being, such as poor performance on an insignificant task coupled with extraordinary performance in all important job duties). However, an employer cannot fire you or take any other adverse employment action against you because of the protected categories or classes to which you belong, such as your race, age, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, color, or disability. While it is possible that you were terminated for no reason or a nonsensical reason, when there is unfair treatment in the workplace, it may be that an underlying reason for the treatment is based in prejudice or bias based on a protected category. Every situation is unique and should be explored in detail with an attorney.
Q. My supervisor never said anything derogatory about my race, gender, national origin, color, disability or age, but I believe he fired me because of it. Do I have a case?
A. It is absolutely possible to have a case for discrimination even if the employer did not use racial slurs or derogatory terms at the workplace. While derogatory statements about a person's protected class are strong evidence of discriminatory intent, they are not a prerequisite for a successful claim. Discrimination can be more subtle than that, and it is important to look at how an employee was treated compared to others in a different protected class but performing the same job with the same skill. For example, while an employer might not say derogatory comments about women, if the employer routinely treated female employees worse than their similarly-situated male counterparts, this would be evidence of discriminatory intent.
Q. What kind of proof do I need to have a successful case?
A. For a successful case, you need to have proof that would make a reasonable person believe that the reason you were fired or demoted, for example, was because of your protected class. This can be done by showing that the reason given for your firing or demotion is not true, by showing that you were subject to worse treatment than others like you who were outside of your protected class, or through direct evidence of discrimination, such as being called a racial slur. Much of the proof of discrimination will come from your own account of what happened.
Q. How can we get proof of discrimination if my coworkers do not want to get involved in my case?
A. Once we file a lawsuit, we have certain rights to documents and access to people’s testimony that you do not ordinarily have outside of the context of a lawsuit. Also, much of the evidence will be your own account or telling of what happened. For example, if your supervisor used derogatory terms towards you, your testimony, either in a deposition or at trial, will be evidence of discrimination. In other cases where the discrimination is more subtle, we will work together to put forth as much circumstantial evidence as possible to show that the motive behind your firing, demotion, or unfair treatment, was your protected class. This can be done by showing how a comparator, someone similarly-situated but not in your protected class, was treated more favorably than you despite having nearly the same job qualifications, duties, and performance. Once we file a lawsuit, we have the right to get many documents from your employer and other people who may have information about your case. This legal process is called discovery and we can use it to get documents such as your performance reviews and those of your co-workers and emails between your supervisor and others about you. We can also subpoena witnesses for deposition, meaning they can be questioned under oath by me about your case.
Not everyone wants the same resolution once he or she has suffered discrimination in the workplace. For that reason, there are several avenues the firm can help you pursue. You may be suffering from discrimination, have not yet been fired, and you want to keep your job. It can be helpful to have an attorney assist you in raising the issue with your employer and getting the discrimination to stop.
If you have already been fired, you may want to get your job back, or, you may feel that there is no going back and you must vindicate your rights in court. Whatever your situation, the solution can be tailor-made to suit your needs and goals.