At King Latham Law, PLLC, we specialize in employment law, specifically involving workplace discrimination. We have noticed that our clients tend to have certain questions again and again as to what to do when they feel they have been discriminated against at work. This article will tell you the basics of pursuing a workplace discrimination claim, especially what you need to do before contacting a lawyer.
Not All Discrimination Is Illegal
It seems to be common sense that discrimination is illegal. In the United States, discrimination is almost always considered negative. However, discrimination is not always illegal, especially regarding discrimination in employment. You cannot sue an employer for discrimination if the discrimination is not illegal, so it is important to know what discrimination is legal and what is not.
Unfortunately, it is not illegal for an employer to treat you differently because they just don’t like you, or because you wear black jeans. There are specific, limited types of discrimination that are illegal.
There are three main sources of law which give rise to employment discrimination claims: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees of at least 40 years of age if that discrimination is based on their age. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 made it illegal for employers to discriminate against disabled employees.
It is important to note that you may qualify as a disabled employee under the ADA if you have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” if you have “a record of such an impairment,” or if you are “regarded as having such an impairment.” This means that if your employer discriminates against you because you used to have cancer or if they thought you had cancer but didn’t, for example, this is still illegal discrimination based on disability, even if you no longer have cancer or never had it at all.
If you feel you were discriminated against for a reason not listed above, you unfortunately likely do not have a legal claim based on that discrimination.
The EEOC Process
What most people don’t know is that you cannot immediately sue your employer after you face illegal discrimination at work. Before you can file a lawsuit, you need to go through a standard process with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “EEOC.” You can start this process by going to the EEOC website (link). There, you can find the correct phone number to call to schedule an interview and begin the process of filing a charge of discrimination. You can also go to your local EEOC office in person to start the process, although this is done on a first-come-first-serve basis and the EEOC is always extremely busy, so you would likely need to go to the office right when it opens to take advantage of this option.
It is absolutely imperative, if you want to pursue a claim against an employer, to start this process as soon as possible after the discrimination occurs. Because the EEOC is so busy, this process can take several months and you must file your charge within 180 days of the discrimination or you cannot pursue your claim.
Once you file a charge with the EEOC, the EEOC will conduct an investigation to see if it is likely that the discrimination you claim occurred did, in fact, happen. Usually, it is not necessary to retain the help of a lawyer during this process, although this is permitted if you prefer. This process also includes attempts to resolve the issue without a lawsuit, called “conciliation.”
After the investigation, if the EEOC decides that it is likely that discrimination occurred and you and your employer were unable to resolve the issue, the EEOC will either decide to help you bring your claim in court or will issue you a Notice of Right to Sue.
You cannot file a lawsuit for employment discrimination unless the EEOC is handling your claim at this stage or you have been issued a Notice of Right to Sue, so it is important to take the EEOC process seriously and comply with all aspects of the process.
Filing a Lawsuit
Because the EEOC handles so many discrimination investigations, it is extremely rare that the EEOC will help you pursue your claim after this point. Most people will receive Notices of Right to Sue and find private lawyers who will help them file a lawsuit against their employer. This is the stage that people tend to think of as “suing” their employer, and this is the stage when we at King Latham Law, PLLC usually begin helping clients pursuing claims of employment discrimination. At this point, we can review the record created during the EEOC’s investigation and help you file a lawsuit and move forward with your claim in civil court. If you have gone through the EEOC process and have been issued a Notice of Right to Sue, please contact us if you would like us to handle your claim.