Employment Discrimination: Discrimination Claims

        Employment Discrimination


If an employer has the required number of employees, a person is protected under federal anti-discrimination laws if he or she is:

     • A current employee

     •A job applicant

     •A former employee

     •An applicant or participant in a training or apprenticeship program.

If a complaint involves discrimination based on age or disability, other requirements must be met in order for a person to be covered. For example, for age discrimination, the person must be age 40 or older. The law does not protect workers under age 40 from discrimination based on age.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is authorized to investigate charges of discrimination and to bring actions in federal court on behalf of both individuals and classes of employees.

Generally, an individual must prove the following factors to have a viable claim for discrimination:

     1) The individual must be a member of a protected class.

     2) The individual’s employment rights or right to employment must have
     been adversely affected (for example, refusal to hire, termination or failure
     to promote).

     3) The individual performed satisfactorily or was “qualified” for the position
     sought or terminated from.

     4) Employer treated individuals outside the protected class more favorably.

If an individual can prove the points above, then a court may conclude that the employer engaged in unlawful discrimination, unless the employer can prove that its actions were for a nondiscriminatory reason. If an employer can show a nondiscriminatory reason (that is, a legitimate and lawful business purpose), then the individual must prove that the reason given by the employer was a pretext (or not the true reason) for discriminating against the individual because of his or her protected characteristic. An individual will prove an unlawful discriminatory practice if he or she proves that an unlawful action was the motivating factor for an employment action. An employer may avoid paying damages if it can prove that the same employment action would have been taken even in the absence of a discriminatory motive.

Discrimination is treating similarly situated individuals unequally. Federal and state governments have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of protected classifications, such as sex, race, religion, disability and age. The purpose of these laws is to eliminate discrimination in the workplace based on prejudices that are unrelated to the ability to perform the job.

In general, an individual within a protected classification must not be treated less favorably than others outside of the protected classification in regard to hiring decisions or employment conditions. An employment decision made because of an employee’s protected classification may lead to a discrimination lawsuit where the employee is entitled to a jury trial and where both compensatory and punitive damages are available.