Employment discrimination is when an employer treats employees or job applicants unfairly because of personal characteristics such as race, sex, or religion. Many instances of employment discrimination go on for a long time before the employee complains about them, simply because they need the income from the job and are worried about retaliation from the employer. Employer retaliation against employees who speak up about discrimination or other kinds of misconduct is against the law, but it is still a widespread problem. Employees who wish to file formal complaints about discrimination must follow a multi-step legal process; any mistakes or omissions in this process could jeopardize your case. The Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you if you are experiencing discrimination at your workplace.
What is Employment Discrimination?
The law requires employers to treat employees fairly and not to take adverse actions against them because of protected characteristics. A protected characteristic is an aspect of the employee’s physical appearance or personal or family history unrelated to the job duties and job performances. Examples of protected characteristics include skin color, ancestry, sex, age, religious creed, country of citizenship, and legally authorized use of a service animal. Military status (being a military veteran or a current member of the United States Armed Forces or Reserves) and family status are also protected characteristics. For example, employers cannot discriminate against you because you are single, married, or divorce or because you have or do not have children. They also cannot discriminate against pregnant women or women who are not currently pregnant but are young enough that they may possibly become pregnant in the future. The following are some laws that define protected characteristics and outline the associated protections as they apply in the workplace:
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
- Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
Discrimination is not simply a feeling that your work supervisor does not like you. In order to prevail in an employment discrimination claim, you must point to a specific adverse action that your employer took against you and present evidence that this adverse action was because of a protected characteristic of yours. The following are examples of adverse actions:
- Refusal to hire
- Denial of promotions or raises for which the employee is qualified
- Harassment, also known as hostile work environment
- Unfairly negative performance reviews
- Excessive scrutiny by work supervisors
- Undesired transfer of work location, work duties, or schedule
- Demotion or reduction in pay
- Termination of employment
- Negative references when the employee seeks new employment
The most persuasive employment discrimination claims involve a pattern of behavior by the employer toward the employee or toward a group of employees who share the same protected characteristic. For example, if a woman does not receive a promotion the first time she applies for it, this by itself is not sex discrimination. If she has applied for the same promotion several times and has always been denied, but all the employees promoted in her place have been men, then she has grounds for a sex discrimination claim, especially if other women in the same organization have experienced similar treatment. If you are unsure whether the unfair treatment you are experiencing at work counts as workplace discrimination, contact the Pennsylvania employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects against discrimination in the workplace as well as in housing, education, and access to public accommodations. One of its provisions establishes the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (PHRC), which hears discrimination complaints with regard to employment and other aspects of public life. It provides for the establishment of local commissions that report to the PHRC. A Philadelphia employment lawyer can help you decide whether it is most appropriate to pursue your complaint at the local, state, or federal level.
How to File an Employment Discrimination Complaint
If you are experiencing discrimination at work, it is never too soon to talk to an employment discrimination lawyer. No matter how egregious your employer’s conduct was, you cannot just march straight into the courthouse and file an employment discrimination lawsuit. You must first go to the PHRC or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) so that these regulatory bodies can investigate your claims to see if you have grounds for an employment discrimination lawsuit.
When you initiate contact with the EEOC, you must do so no more than 45 days after the incident that was the proximate cause of your contact with the EEOC. For example, even if you have been having problems with your supervisor for years, the complaint should begin with a recent event, such as an insulting remark the supervisor made to you about your protected characteristic or your transfer to a work location that is farther from your home without an increase in your pay. The EEOC will then conduct an investigation to see whether there is a pattern of discriminatory behavior at your workplace. The more specific details you can cite at your initial meeting with an EEOC counselor, the better. Even though 45 days can go by quickly, it is best if you contact an employment discrimination lawyer before taking your case to the EEOC. During the ensuing investigation, the EEOC will attempt to verify your claims and corroborate them with outside evidence. It might also interview other people in your workplace to see if they witnessed discriminatory actions against you or other employees. If the discriminatory actions are mostly on the part of a specific high-ranking employee, the EEOC will attempt to find out the extent to which others were aware of this employee’s behavior. You may file an employment discrimination lawsuit in court only after the EEOC gives you permission to do so.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Employment Discrimination
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you come forward with claims of discrimination in your workplace. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.