Workplace discrimination is common, but few people make a federal case out of it. Most would rather ignore it or find another job than sue, especially without a lawyer. Yet discrimination is a serious matter deserving of the attention of a legal process. So, if you’re the victim of workplace discrimination and feel your state courts won’t do your claim justice, take it to federal court yourself.
Though there are many hurdles involved in taking on a workplace discrimination action, you can be heard as a pro se litigant. Understanding the basics is the first step in handling your case effectively.
What Constitutes Workplace Discrimination?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently from others on the basis of race or ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy status, place of national origin, disabilities, genetic information, and age discrimination against people 40 years or older.
Forms of discrimination include harassment by people in your workplace, lack of access to medical or genetic information, retaliation for complaints of job discrimination, and denial of reasonable accommodations for disabilities.
Scenarios of Workplace Discrimination
Scenario 1: Awarding of Promotions
Jean is highly qualified for a more responsible position in her company than she currently has. She’s been with the company for seven years. She applies for a new position with more responsibility and better pay while she is six months pregnant. However, she is passed over in favor of a male candidate without the same level of experience. When she asks why she was denied the promotion, Jean’s boss tells her she does not have the proper level of commitment to her job.
Scenario 2: Less Pay for the Same Work
Kendra has worked at her company for 11 years. She was promoted to middle manager and became part of a 6-person management team in her 7th year. One day at a company seminar, she overhears Mike encourage one of his subordinates to apply for an open middle management position. Mike, who was promoted to middle manager a year after Kendra, told the employee his monthly salary. To Kendra’s dismay, the amount was $625 more than she made.
Scenario 3: Use of Prejorative Terms
Because his colleagues perceive Jason as homosexual, they use slurs and pejorative terms to refer to him and make jokes they believe are funny. Sometimes they direct these remarks at him in conversation, creating a hostile workplace for Jason. His actual sexual orientation does not matter in this case. Jason is being discriminated against and treated unfairly because of his perceived sexual orientation.
The Process of Filing a Lawsuit for Employment Discrimination
Filing With the EEOC
Before you can file a lawsuit against the employer, you must first file a charge with the EEOC to allow this federal agency to investigate the alleged discrimination. The investigation may take 10 months or more. When the EEOC has decided that your charges are substantiated, the agency will provide you with a Notice of Right to Sue. You have 90 days from the date you receive this notice to file your lawsuit with the courts. For equal pay or age discrimination lawsuits, however, a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC is not required.
Steps to Take After the Notice of Right to Sue
- Determine the appropriate federal court or venue for your action.
- Review the statutes governing your claim as well as complaints similar to the one you want to file to understand the requirements and structure.
- Use a case database such as Google Scholar case law to find cases similar to yours and determine what you need to prove.
- Collect evidence to support your claims. You can use the findings of the EEOC investigation as evidence but find more.
- Include in your complaint the name and address of the company you’re suing and any individuals named as respondents.
- Include your name and contact information along with your allegations.
- Pay a filing fee that may amount to several hundred dollars. File the fee and the complaint with the clerk of the appropriate court.
- Have the complaint and summons served on the appropriate parties.
Responses to the Complaint
- After receiving the complaint, the employer will have the opportunity to respond to the charges in writing. In some cases, the company may file a motion to dismiss, which will require your attendance at a hearing.
- When the case gets to the discovery stage, both parties will exchange information, documentation, and evidence.
- The defendant company may also make an offer to settle the case for a financial sum, which you can accept, negotiate, or reject.
Filing a lawsuit against an offending employer is one of the best and most practical ways to hold a company accountable for discriminatory actions and practices. If you prevail, the lawsuit could end in compensation for you, steep EEOC fines, and curtailing of such discriminatory practices in the future.
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