Employment Discrimination and Staying Compliant with the EEOC
In general, an individual within a protected classification must not be treated less favorably than others outside of the protected classification in regard to hiring decisions or employment conditions. An employment decision made because of an employee’s protected classification may lead to a discrimination lawsuit where the employee is entitled to a jury trial and where both compensatory and punitive damages are available.
Federal Protected Classes and Covered Employers
Federal laws protect employees and job applicants against employment discrimination when it involves:
- Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) disability or genetic information
- Harassment by managers or co-workers (or others in the workplace) because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information
- Denial of a reasonable accommodation that the employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability
- Retaliation because the employee complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
If an employer has the required number of employees, a person is protected under federal anti-discrimination laws if he or she is a current employee, job applicant, former employee or an applicant/participant in a training or apprenticeship program. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is authorized to investigate charges of discrimination and to bring actions in federal court on behalf of both individuals and classes of employees.
Generally, an individual must prove the following factors to have a viable claim for discrimination:
- The individual must be a member of a protected class
- The individual’s employment rights or right to employment must have been adversely affected (for example, refusal to hire, termination or failure to promote)
- The individual performed satisfactorily or was “qualified” for the position sought or terminated from
- Employer treated individuals outside the protected class more favorably
If an individual can prove the points above, then a court may conclude that the employer engaged in unlawful discrimination, unless the employer can prove that its actions were for a nondiscriminatory reason. If an employer can show a nondiscriminatory reason (that is, a legitimate and lawful business purpose), then the individual must prove that the reason given by the employer was a pretext (or not the true reason) for discriminating against the individual because of his or her protected characteristic.
An individual will prove an unlawful discriminatory practice if he or she proves that an unlawful action was the motivating factor for an employment action. An employer may avoid paying damages if it can prove that the same employment action would have been taken even in the absence of a discriminatory motive.
Staying Compliant with the EEOC
Join Assurance University and employment law experts Katherine Mendez and Ashley Workman as they explore changes to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our February 25 webinar. >>
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