With all the advances in civil rights our society has made, employment discrimination should be a thing of the past. However, workers around the country continue to face discrimination in the workplace. If you have been mistreated because of your race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other legally protected characteristic, consult an experienced employment discrimination attorney. In the meantime, let’s take a look at who is protected by anti-discrimination laws.
Several Federal Laws Protect Workers Against Discrimination
To combat employment discrimination, Congressional lawmakers have enacted several federal laws over the years, starting with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). This law forbids employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on their race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. In addition, sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex-based discrimination under Title VII.
Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that Title VII also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Moreover, protections against discrimination have been enacted in the following laws:
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination based on age (40 and over)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees with disabilities
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects employees against discrimination based on their genetic information
Together, these laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against protected classes when making employment decisions, such as hiring, compensating, promoting, terminating, or any other terms and conditions of employment (e.g. bonuses, paid time off, fringe benefits). Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain about or report discrimination or participate in a related legal proceeding, such as testifying in an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a coworker.
State Laws Also Prohibit Employment Discrimination
Despite the strong legal protections against employment discrimination under federal laws, there are limitations. First, Title VII, the ADA, PDA, and GINA only apply to employers with 15 or more employees (the ADEA covers employers with 20 or more employees).
Also, before pursuing a lawsuit, it is necessary to file a charge of discrimination (a complaint) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency will attempt to resolve the matter through its conciliation process before issuing the complainant a right to sue letter.
In response to these limitations, many states have enacted anti-discrimination laws that cover most employers, as well as a more comprehensive set of protected characteristics, such as:
- Physical or mental disability
- Marital status
- AIDS or HIV status
- Military service
- Natural hairstyle
- Arrest or conviction record
- Citizenship status
- Order of protection status
Also, many state laws allow victims of workplace discrimination to file a lawsuit without the need for an administrative proceeding.
In short, discrimination is prohibited in any aspect of employment under federal and state laws. Employment discrimination can be overt or subtle, and employers have ways of disguising their discriminatory motives. However, examples of discriminatory employment practices include:
- Refusing to hire a Black job applicant because of their race
- Denying a promotion to a disabled employee
- Firing an older worker solely because of their age
- Discriminating against a female job applicant or employee in compensation or any other term or condition of employment
By working with an experienced employment lawyer, you can level the playing field and protect your rights.
Legal Remedies for Employment Discrimination
Many employment-related disputes can be settled out of court through mediation or arbitration, but an adept attorney is always prepared to litigate. In any event, a plaintiff may be able to recover damages such as
- Back pay
- Front pay
- The value of lost benefits (e.g. health and pension)
- Bonus payments
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Attorneys’ fees and court costs
Back pay and front pay are typically awarded when an employee has been fired for a discriminatory reason. A court may also award equitable remedies, such as requiring the employer to reinstate or promote the employee if practicable or take corrective actions to eliminate any discriminatory practices.
Despite federal and state laws that prohibit employment discrimination, it remains a problem in many workplaces. While race- and gender-based discrimination are common, anyone can be subjected to discrimination in the workplace. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly because of your protected status, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.
Thomas McKinney is an experienced New Jersey employment law attorney and a partner at Castronovo & McKinney, LLC. He handles all matters of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination.