It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees because of their race, gender, religion, national origin, age, or disability when hiring, terminating, promoting, or when imposing other conditions of employment. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who opposes discriminatory practices. At Parks, Chesin & Walbert, we have been enforcing these laws for more than 30 years. We seek out and achieve justice for individuals harmed by discriminatory practices.
Most states, like Georgia, have “employment at will” laws, which mean that the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. This law allows an employer to terminate an employee or impose conditions of employment for any reason (good or bad) or for no reason at all. This “at-will” doctrine does not apply to employees with contracts or when the employer violates federal anti-discrimination laws.
These federal laws intended to protect employees from discrimination and harassment in the workplace include:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, and retaliation);
Title IX (gender discrimination in educational institutions);
42 U.S.C. §1981 (race discrimination);
42 U.S.C. §1983 (gender and race discrimination by a government employer);
The Americans with Disabilities Act;
The Rehabilitation Act; and
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The procedures for asserting claims for discrimination vary depending upon the specifics of the claim and the particular federal law on which a person bases his or her claim. More importantly, the specific remedies and damages vary from one law to the next. In some cases, for example, a plaintiff can seek unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. That is the case under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Until Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, there are certain limitations on the damages that a jury can award. Some claims can be brought successfully under more than one statute. What is the appropriate mode to travel in a particular case can only be determined after an evaluation of the specific facts by an attorney.
In cases of religious discrimination, it is illegal for an employer to take some adverse action against an employee because of his religion or to refuse to make “reasonable accommodations” to an employee. For example, an employer cannot require an employee to violate his or her religious beliefs — such as working on the Sabbath, eating a forbidden food, or using alcohol — if doing so is against his religious principles, unless it would impose an undue burden. Instead, the employer must make an accommodation enabling the employee to work without violating his/her religious convictions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act both make it illegal for employers to either discriminate against an employee based on his disability or to refuse a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability. While the ADA applies to all employers, the Rehabilitation Act only applies to employers receiving federal money.
Disability law is a very complex and fact-specific area of discrimination law. To be covered an employee must suffer from a “disability” that substantially impairs a major life activity. Our attorneys have experience in this area of the law and can guide you through this difficult process. If you suffer from a disability, have a lawyer on your side before you seek out accommodations or attempt to address situations that you feel are discriminatory.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) prohibits discrimination against workers over the age of 40. This includes decisions to hire, terminate and promote.
The ADEA also includes certain provisions designed to protect older employees when they are terminated. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act requires employers who conduct a layoff to inform older workers of the ages of similarly situated employees. It also requires that, when offering a severance payment, an employer must allow covered employees 21 days to review the agreement and an additional 7 days to revoke their acceptance.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires employers to pay men and women the same wage for the same jobs Â— “equal pay for equal work.” Equal work is defined as “equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” An employer may pay employees of different genders different wages, however, if the difference is based on (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (4) a differential based on any factor except gender. The last exception is broad and is where most controversy exists, but the basis of unequal pay must be a legitimate factor, like experience or education, and not a purely subjective or random determination.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, better known as the EEOC, was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enforce Title VII. Today, the EEOC is also responsible for enforcing other anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Before filing a federal lawsuit for discrimination or harassment based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. But, in Georgia, you only have 180 days to file your charge. So don’t delay. The EEOC investigates charges by asking both the employee (or job applicant), known as the “Charging Party,” and the employer being charged, known as the “Respondent,” for documents and information relevant to the charge. At the end of its investigation, the EEOC may do one of three things: (1) close its file without completing the investigation; (2) conclude that it was unable to establish a violation of the law; or (3) conclude that there is substantial evidence of a violation.
Only in rare instances will the EEOC file a lawsuit to enforce an individual’s rights. Click here for a link to the EEOC with information on filing a charge: The EEOC’s determination has little effect on one’s ability to bring a claim against an employer. Given the number of complaints filed with the EEOC, it does not have the opportunity to fully investigation all of the claims that are filed. That is one reason why it is important to get an independent assessment of potential claims from an attorney. Regardless of the EEOC’s conclusion, it will normally issue a “Notice of Right to Sue.” The charging party then has 90 days to file a case in federal Court; once that 90 days has passed, the right to file an action under the federal laws the EEOC is involved with is lost.
Still have questions? Call us about helping you file your EEOC charge on time.