Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employer treats an employee differently or unfairly due to one or more personal characteristics. Victims of discrimination at work may be able to file suit against their employers.
What Is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination in the workplace can occur in many forms. Some types of employment discrimination include mistreatment based on:
Employees receive protection from discrimination under various federal and state laws. Federal laws, enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA)
North Carolina laws prohibiting discrimination include:
- Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA)
- Persons with Disabilities Protection Act
- Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA)
What Types of Discrimination Claims Can I Bring?
Any time an employer takes negative action against an employee based on a protected characteristic, the employer has violated that employee’s rights. Discrimination in the workplace falls under four main categories.
Discriminatory Employment Practices
Federal and state laws prohibit employers from making employment decisions based on one’s membership in a protected class. Employment decisions may include:
- Whether to hire a job applicant
- Whether to fire or demote an employee
- Determining which employee should receive a promotion or other work-related benefit
If your employer discriminated against you in the workplace, you may be eligible to file a discrimination claim.
Anti-discrimination laws prohibit policies, laws, or practices that seem neutral but actually negatively impact certain people. If members of a particular protected class feel that a certain policy victimizes them, any member may be able to file a discrimination claim.
Harassment is a form of discrimination that involves offensive language, inappropriate postings, and other discriminatory behaviors that create a hostile work environment. Harassment typically involves multiple instances of discrimination over time and can lead to discrimination-based lawsuits.
All employees have the right to file a complaint, report hazardous situations, or participate in a workplace investigation without dealing with employer retaliation. If an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her rights, the employee may file a discrimination claim.
A Charlotte employment discrimination attorney can help you explore your legal options.
As a Victim of Discrimination, What Are My Options?
Victims of discrimination may file a discrimination charge with the EEOC or file suit against their employers.
Filing a Complaint With the EEOC
If you plan to file a lawsuit against your employer based on discrimination, you typically must first file a charge with the EEOC. Gibbons Leis, PLLC, drafts and files EEOC charges for clients. You are entitled to have legal counsel before the EEOC. You do not have to wait for the EEOC to complete its investigation before you hire an attorney. In fact, it is usually in your best interest to hire an attorney before you file your EEOC charge.
The EEOC conducts a voluntary mediation program that can result in an early settlement of your claim. If you and your employer agree to mediation, having an experienced employment law attorney will help you value your claim and negotiate the best deal possible.
If your EEOC charge is not settled, the EEOC will investigate your claims. The EEOC may dismiss your claim for lack of evidence of discrimination or other reasons. If it denies your charge for any reason, you will receive a Notice-of-Right-To-Sue. If you would rather file suit before the investigation is complete, you may request a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue 180 days after your investigation begins. You must file your suit within 90 days of receiving your notice.
Note: Those planning to file age discrimination suits or suits under the Equal Pay Act do not have to obtain a Notice of Right-to-Sue before filing suit.
Filing a Lawsuit
When you file a lawsuit, you will need to establish a presumption of discrimination. You may do this by proving the following:
- You are a member of a protected class (i.e., over the age of 40, disabled, etc.)
- You were qualified for your job.
- Your employer took action—based on certain characteristics—against you relating to your employment.
- Your employer treated someone not in your protected class more favorably than you, or your employer replaced you with someone not in your protected class (i.e., someone much younger, someone not disabled, etc.)
Proving the above can be difficult. A Charlotte employment law attorney can help you put together both direct and circumstantial evidence to prove the above elements. Once you have established these elements, courts will presume that your protected class is what caused the discriminatory act.
Your employer will then have to defend itself by presenting a valid reason (reason not connected with your protected status) for the actions. If your employer is able to establish a reason, you will have to challenge it by proving:
- The reason was untrue or riddled with errors.
- Your protected status played more of a role in the decision than the reason given.
- The reason was insufficient
To do so, you will likely need direct or circumstantial evidence.
If you successfully challenge your employer’s reason, you will likely win your discrimination case.
If your discrimination lawsuit is successful, you may recover remedies including:
- Back pay. Lost wages from the date of discrimination to date of judgment
- Front pay. Lost future earnings
- Benefits. Lost benefits (i.e., insurance, pension, etc.)
- Pain and suffering and other emotional damages
- Legal fees. Attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and court costs
- Punitive damages. Rare, but a court may award these damages if the discrimination was especially egregious or malicious
Courts will likely also aim to put you back to the position you were before the discrimination took place. You may receive:
- Reinstatement. The court may require your employer to give you your old job back.
- Promotion. The court may require your employer to give you the promotion that you missed due to the discrimination.
We Are Here to Help
Discrimination at your place of work is illegal and can destroy your life. The employment discrimination attorneys in Charlotte at Gibbons Leis, PLLC are available to protect your employment rights and help you get back on your feet after a discriminatory incident. If your employer has acted illegally, give us a call at 704-879-3841 or fill out the contact form on this page to see how we can help you.