The law is meant to protect those who cannot protect themselves. That often includes members of what are called “protected classes” — people who possess certain involuntary or inherent attributes over which they have no control, like nationality, disability or sexual orientation.
When a member of one of these protected classes is treated differently at work because of one of those inherent attributes, that is called workplace discrimination, and it is illegal.
Many members of these protected classes are often not fully aware of their rights, their status or of their legal options in such cases. That is where Conexión Legal can help. By writing to us through WhatsApp, or by calling 1800 201 1220, victims of workplace discrimination can get free advice and connect with attorneys who can help you with your case.
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How do I know if I am a victim of workplace discrimination?
Simply put, workplace discrimination means that the employer treats one person or group differently than others who are not in the same group, but are similarly situated. An employee’s status in a protected class cannot be used as a basis for hiring (or not hiring), dismissal, lack of advancement, retribution or discipline. In such cases of workplace discrimination, the law is meant to make victims whole — to return them to the status they would have had, were they not discriminated against.
For example: If a man and a woman are equally qualified for a promotion, but it can be proved that the employer gave the promotion to the man because he is a man, that is workplace discrimination, and the woman is entitled to compensation.
Potential employers are also not legally allowed to use a job candidate’s protected class status as a reason not to hire them, nor can employers use an employee’s protected class status as a reason to change their terms of employment, dismiss them, harass them or intimidate them.
Workplace discrimination can also come in the form of retribution. Regardless of protected class status, it is against the law to retaliate against any person who makes a good faith charge or complaint of discrimination (whether they were the initial victim or not), or an employee who blew the whistle on safety violations, reported sexual harassment or who reported any other violation of public policy, like violations of workplace safety laws.
Who is protected from workplace discrimination?
Illegal workplace discrimination is discrimination that is against public policy, or against protected classes publicly identified by law or government agency.
In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, sexual orientation, gender identity, and related medical conditions), physical or mental disability, age (40 or older), citizenship status and genetic information. Most states apply the federal statutes only to companies with 15 or more employees. Some states go further than others to include other protected classes.
California has expanded protections to include marital status, gender identity and expression, medical conditions, HIV/AIDS, political activities or affiliations, military or veteran status and status as a victim of domestic violence, assault or stalking.
New York’s protected classes also include predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, domestic violence victim status, sealed arrest or conviction record, retaliation and medical marijuana use.
New Jersey’s protected classes include actual or perceived race, gender identity or expression, domestic partnership status, familial status, marital status, atypical hereditary cellular or blood traits and HIV/AIDS status.
Pennsylvania includes includes familial status and use of a guide or support animal due to a health condition.
Illinois protected classes, beyond the federal protected classes, include order of protection status, conviction record, marital status and military status, or unfavorable discharge from military service.
Georgia’s Fair Employment Practices Act only shields the seven federal protected classes, though the city of Atlanta prohibits discrimination based on marital status, parental status, familial status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Reparations and restitution
Victims of workplace discrimination are entitled to reparations which vary according to the discriminator act committed, and the effect it had on the victim. For example: A pregnant woman has qualifications equivalent to a male coworker, and both are seeking the same promotion. If it can be proved that the male coworker was selected for the promotion over the pregnant woman because she is a pregnant woman, the woman could sue for financial damages as recompense for what she would have received had she been promoted.
In the case of unjustified dismissal or wrongful termination (being dismissed because of one’s status as a member of a protected class or as a whistleblower), victims are compensated based on income they would have received had they not been dismissed. In some cases, those lost earnings include bonuses and earnings growth, which takes into account raises, cost-of-living adjustments and possible promotions. They may also receive attorney’s fees.
Other factors are taken into consideration when awarding damages in workplace discrimination or wrongful termination cases. Since job loss can have a deleterious effect on an employee’s emotional and physical health, workplace discrimination lawsuits can also seek compensation for medical and psychological expenses. The financial value of benefits is also taken into consideration in these cases, including health care coverage, dental and vision insurance, retirement plans, stock options and other employer-provided reimbursements. Juries can also decide to award additional damages based on “pain and suffering.”
Plaintiffs in wrongful termination cases have an obligation to mitigate the losses of their former employer. For example, if a victim of workplace discrimination was laid off due to their status as a member of a protected class, and it is proved in court, they are entitled to receive damages, but must make a good faith effort to find a similar job with a similar salary as soon as possible. If it is found that the plaintiff has not made that effort — and the former employer can prove it in court — then a calculated mitigation amount is subtracted from compensation for lost earnings. Plaintiffs must keep a careful record of their job search to avoid this.
Losses incurred as a result of a new job search
Having been wrongfully terminated, an individual will often incur costs associated with looking for new employment, which include — but are not limited to — membership in professional associations (networks), attending job fairs, travel expenses and clothing expenses. Victims are entitled to sue for compensation for these expenses.
Legal representation is key
There is an old saying in the legal profession: He who represents himself has a fool for a client.
While this primer covers much of the basic information needed to understand workplace discrimination, it is important to prioritize finding quality legal representation that has a firm and in-depth grasp on employment laws in your state and/or city. An experienced and knowledgable attorney can mean the difference between receiving little or no compensation, and recovering that to which you or your loved ones are entitled.
If you or a loved one has experienced workplace discrimination or wrongful termination, contact the Conexión Legal team as soon as possible for free legal advice, and representation by an expert in discrimination law.