General Facts about Employment Discrimination

Article written based on Pennsylvania and Federal Law

Each Employment Discrimination case is different. That is why you must contact an attorney to see if you have any rights. But all Employment Discrimination cases share some common traits. This Article discusses some of those traits.

To prove an Employment Discrimination case you must show several things. First, you must be able to show that something bad happened to you in your employment. This can be as simple as being fired, not receiving a promotion or not being hired for a job. Or it can complex like not given the proper training to complete the job, not being given the opportunity to apply for a promotion or not being treated the same as others in the same workplace. This “bad treatment” (Employment Discrimination) does not have to be one single event. It can be a series of events which happen over time. Take, for example, sexual harassment. You can sue for sexual harassment if a person makes sexual or other unwelcome remarks to you not once, but over several years or months. The sexual harassment is an ongoing “bad treatment.”

After you can show you have had some “bad treatment” you need to show that this “bad treatment” in your workplace was because of some “illegal reason.” What this means is that the person who allegedly discriminated against you did this “bad treatment” because he or she didn’t like your skin color, your religion, because of your sex, because you exercised your rights under the law to unionize, etc. (All of these “illegal reasons” are spelled out in federal and state discrimination laws.) If this “bad treatment” was because of some “illegal reason” then you can move on to the next step. But, if the reason for the “bad treatment” was because of your hair color, because you didn’t get along with everyone or because you weren’t performing in your job then it is unlikely you can succeed in your employment discrimination case.

However, if your employer claims you received this “bad treatment” for a “legitimate business reason” (or lies about the treatment or the reason for the treatment) then the situation become more complex. If an employer can offer a “legitimate business reason” for the treatment, and it is true, then you will lose your Employment Discrimination case. (An example of a “legitimate business reasons” is that you are not qualified for the job.) But if the “legitimate business reason” is just a cover-up for some “illegal reason”, a “pretext,” then you have to prove that this “legitimate business reason” is false when you prove your case in court. That is, you have to prove this “pretext” (the cover-up) is false and the real reason for the “bad treatment” is the “illegal reason” not the “pretext.”

NOTE: This is where it becomes complex to determine whether the reason for this “bad treatment” was because of some “illegal reason” or not; and this is where an attorney can help. There are a lot of laws which provide illegal reasons for “bad treatment.” If an employer violated one of these laws then you can sue them, if an employer did not then basically you can’t.

The next step to proving your Employment Discrimination case is proving that you fall in a “protected class.” Being in a “protected class” just means that you were a person that is supposed to be protected when Congress, or your state Legislature, wrote the discrimination law. For example, to file a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act you must have some sort of disability to be in the “protected class.” Most people usually fit into the “protected class.”

There are also several other things which you may have to prove in your case. These depend on what type of case you have. For example, if you are trying to say you were not hired because of your race for a job, you must prove that you were qualified for the job. Further, you would have to prove that the job was still open after you applied for it. These other requirements vary from case to case and depend on which law you are suing under.

One of the most important aspects about Employment law is, however, that you must see an attorney almost immediately after you think you have been discriminated against. The law allows only a very short amount of time to file a lawsuit before you are prevented from succeeding in your lawsuit. If you have a federal employment claim you must notify the EEOC within 180 days of the “bad treatment.” If you do not you are generally forever barred from filing a lawsuit.

A lot of people are very curious about what they could recover if they are successful in their lawsuit. Generally, if you are successful in your suit you might be able to recover the following:

  1. Back Wages (money you would have received if you had worked for the company the whole time up until the time of your trial);
  2. Front Pay (money paid for theoretically working for some time in the future–for example two years salary);
  3. Consequential Damages (money for just being discriminated against);
  4. Punitive Damages (money received because the court decided to punish the company for discriminating against you); and
  5. Attorneys’ Fees (money usually paid to your attorney for working on the case).

Employment law is a complex area of law. It generally requires professional legal help. But if you had to sum up Employment Discrimination in a sentence or two it would basically be this: If you have been received “bad treatment” in your workplace because of some “illegal reason” then you might have an Employment Discrimination case. But, remember you must have received this “bad treatment” because of the “illegal reason.”

Author: Richard E. O'Neill, Esq.

The O'Neill Law Office Norristown, PA (610) 635-5555

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