Legal Issues and Workplace Discrimination

Victims of workplace discrimination must make many decisions.  They must decide whether to quit their jobs and attempt to find alternative employment, they must determine whether they want to take action against their employers, and they must choose which course of action best suits their circumstances. 

However, victims’ decisions do not end there.  Once a victim decides to take legal action against workplace discrimination, he faces additional choices.  Can he prove his case?  How should he behave at work?  Should he hire an attorney?  Will some form of dispute resolution satisfy his needs?  What types of remedies are available to him if he files suit? 

InjuryBoard has composed this article to provide information on the legal process you will face upon filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit.  The article will answer questions you may have about the legal process, and help you to make informed decisions about your course of action.

Proving Workplace Discrimination

Generally, courts use the same standard of proof regardless of which type of discrimination is applicable.  The same standard applies whether the moving party alleges any type of discrimination, whether it is race, sex, gender, national origin, age, or another characteristic.  You are likely to need direct evidence that discrimination occurred in order to have an actionable case.  Helpful pieces of evidence include letters, memos, and notes that directly show that you were treated with bias because you are a member of a protected class. 

Circumstantial evidence, although insufficient alone, can add weight to your discrimination claim.  One example of circumstantial evidence is violating company policy by singling out a particular group.  Also, you may use an employer’s repeated action of passing over a particular group for promotion, paying a particular group less than other groups, and assigning a specific group to dead-end jobs as examples of circumstantial evidence.  Essentially, you must prove that you are a member of a protected class, and that you suffered negative treatment by your employer because you are a member of the protected class.

If the employer can cast enough doubt as to the reason for the adverse treatment of a member of a protected category, the alleged victim will lose her case.  For example, an Asian man may claim that he was fired from his job because he is a member of the Asian community.  His employer may respond that he fired the man because he was downsizing.  This is likely a reasonable excuse for firing an employee.  Unless the man can prove that he was fired because he is Asian, he will likely lose his case.  In other words, the alleged victim must prove pretext.  In this scenario, the victim may rebut the employer’s excuse by pointing out that the employer hired a new employee to fill the position the next day.  The employer could not possibly have been downsizing if he hired a replacement for the fired man the next day.  Here, however, the victim may need more direct evidence that the employer was racist in order win a lawsuit.

Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact

Disparate treatment and disparate impact are two terms used in workplace discrimination situations.  Disparate treatment is obvious and intentional discrimination against a person because if his membership in a protected class. 

Conversely, disparate impact is more difficult to detect because it does not require intent to discriminate.  Disparate impact involves a situation in which a company has a requirement with which only a small percentage of people in the protected group can comply.  In other words, a company’s requirement excludes most members of the protected category.  The discrimination is an unintentional result of the company’s policy.

CLICK HERE - to learn more about disparate treatment and disparate impact

KEY STRATEGY – Circumstantial evidence can be extremely helpful to your workplace discrimination case, but you must have direct evidence of discrimination for your case to be viable.

Hiring an Attorney

It is often advisable to place complicated situations in the hands of experts.  If you choose to file suit, you will almost certainly be confronted with legal jargon and issues with which you are unfamiliar.  Employment law attorneys have the experience necessary to review and analyze contracts, agreements, policies, and handbooks.  A qualified attorney can help laypeople wade through the legal process and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination did occur.  In the event that you do not have a viable workplace discrimination claim, the attorney will suggest that you abandon the lawsuit, saving you time, effort, and money on filing a futile lawsuit against your employer.

Dispute Resolution

There are several alternatives to filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit against your employer.  Individuals may engage in some form of pretrial dispute resolution, thereby resolving the case and avoiding a trial.  There are several popular types of dispute resolution. 

Arbitration – In this form of dispute resolution, each party presents his case to a neutral third party.  This neutral third party renders a decision on the matter based on the information presented, eliminating the need for a judge, jury, or administrative agency.  Parties usually agree that the third party’s decision will be binding on both parties.  Generally, arbitration decisions cannot be overturned by the courts.

Compulsory Arbitration – Some companies and businesses require their employees to sign compulsory arbitration agreements.  This means that, in the event of a dispute between labor and management, they two sides would be required to attend arbitration.  Compulsory arbitration is often used in situations in which a labor strike would dramatically affect public interest.

Settlement – This occurs when the parties to a dispute reach a resolution before the case goes to trial.  Knowing when to accept a settlement offer can be tricky.  You don’t want to sell yourself short, but you also don’t want to be too greedy.  This is a situation in which the experience and advice of a qualified attorney could be invaluable.  Remember, if you reject an offer and win your case at trial, you may be penalized if the amount of damages the judge or jury awards is less than the original offer.  In other words, if you reject a settlement offer and the jury awards you less than the proposed settlement, you may be penalized.  In that situation, you will be prohibited from seeking payment of your attorney’s fees accrued after the date you rejected the settlement offer.

CLICK HERE - for an article analyzing the pros and cons of arbitration

KEY STRATEGY – It is advisable to attempt to settle workplace discrimination cases without enduring a long and arduous trial.  You and your attorney should do research before entering dispute resolution to protect yourself against subsequent penalties.

Legal Remedies for Discrimination

According to EEO laws, victims of workplace discrimination may seek a variety of remedies, where applicable.  Employees may request back pay, restoration of their original job (in cases where the victim was unlawfully terminated or reassigned), a court order to stop ongoing discrimination, and compensation for pain and suffering endured as a result of the discrimination.  Although the use of punitive damages (designed to punish the guilty party for wrongdoing) is generally limited, employers found guilty of egregious workplace discrimination may be forced to pay up to $300,000 in punitive damages. 

Read the first article in the series:  Preventing Workplace Discrimination 

Contact an attorney in your area.