Employment Discrimination Claims

How should an employee handle discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently from other employees on the basis of a protected status - race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, age, and military service among others. Discrimination can occur if you are denied certain opportunities, but it can also occur if you are harassed or made to feel uncomfortable based on a protected status. If you experience discrimination you have certain rights in the workplace. You may wish to go directly to an attorney, the Equal Opportunity Commission, or you may wish to work with your employer to stop the discrimination. Frequently you may try each avenue. Whichever path you chose, it is a good idea to do the following:

  1. Recognize that discrimination can make even the most rational thinker very emotional. However, you need to try to address the issue in a businesslike straightforward way. If you don't think that you can do that under the circumstances, then you should enlist the aid of an attorney that can assist you in thinking logically, while still arguing on your behalf.
  2. Write down a time line of events, in case you end up in litigation. Be sure to set forth when the event occurred, where, witnesses, and write in detail, including word for word records of the inappropriate conduct. This should be kept as long as you are employed with the employer, even after you complain about the discrimination. It is against the law for your employer to retaliate against employees who make claims of discrimination, and this time line is the best way to keep track of the actions of your employer after your claim. If there are e-mails, letters, documents, pictures, jokes, etc. that make you feel uncomfortable, then save those items and keep them with your timeline as exhibits. This timeline is for your assistance, and is not something we recommend that you give to your employer or the EEOC without discussion with an attorney first.
  3. Locate and review and keep a copy of your employer's anti-discrimination policy. You may find this in your employee manual or you may find it posted in a common area at your place of employment. Employers are supposed to post various posters required by state and federal discrimination laws explaining your rights under the law.
  4. Follow your employer's policy for reporting the discrimination or harassment. It is a good idea to consult with an attorney to help you before you put your concerns in writing. If your employer doesn't have a procedure for reporting discrimination, you may still report it to your supervisor, or the human resources department if your supervisor is involved in the discrimination. If there is a policy, be careful to follow it, as many employers have designated a specific individual who is responsible for accepting complaints of discrimination and harassment. You must make it clear that the discrimination or harassment is unacceptable to you. If you are too uncomfortable to discuss this with your employer's designees, then seek legal counsel, and your lawyer may assist you in drafting a letter, or notifying someone in a way that makes you more comfortable.
  5. You will be taken more seriously if you put your concerns in writing. However, you should be very careful to be sure that your facts are 100% accurate, because your employer is likely to keep your writing. Ask that an investigation be made into your allegations and that disciplinary or corrective action against the offenders be taken and that you be notified after this has been done. Employers are required by law to consider all reports of discrimination and harassment promptly. Be sure that your writing sets forth the factual basis for your complaint and sets forth the witnesses that may verify what you say. If you have texts, e-mails, IM messages or other technology, then ask your employer to preserve their electronic information and stop it from going through the normal deletion process.
  6. Employers may not retaliate against you for making claims of discrimination - unfortunately many employers don't know that this is illegal, and frequently it is easier to prove retaliation than to prove the original discrimination.
  7. Obviously however, if you are untruthful in your original report of discrimination, and falsely accuse someone, the employer may end up disciplining you.
  8. If you receive no response from your employer or feel your complaints are not being taken seriously, you should consider contacting the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or an attorney. You have the obligation to file a complaint with the EEOC within a specific time period depending upon the particular law that was violated or waive your right to do so, so do not allow much time to pass waiting for your employer to resolve this issue.

The most important thing is to stop any discrimination from occurring. This may frequently be done through working with the employer. If, however, your employer is unwilling or unable to stop the discrimination then you should seek assistance elsewhere - either from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or from an experienced employment lawyer.