Since the law is too far-reaching for lawyers to focus on all things equally, most law firms choose just a few areas of the law to practice. Many of these categories cover quite a few issues. Personal injury law covers both car accidents, for example, which account for the majority of injury lawsuits filed in the U.S., and work-related injury, the second-most-frequent cause for personal injury lawsuits. Similarly, employment law covers issues such as wage theft and wrongful dismissal lawsuits in a variety of contexts.
Of all the employee laws that protect workers in the U.S., one concept workers should thoroughly understand — and, all too often, don’t — is that of discrimination. This is important because discrimination can play into several workplace situations such as harassment and unfair dismissal claims, and it’s impossible to stand up for your rights as an employee if you don’t know what those rights are. Here are three of the most important questions you should be asking about discrimination, answered:
- What Constitutes Workplace Discrimination?
People are often surprised by how few things are legally classified as discrimination. Your employer can fire you, for example, because of your shoes, your voice or your height, in most cases. The only classes protected by federal law are race, color, national origin, citizenship status, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, and age (if you are at least 40). Some states provide additional protections for sexual orientation, youth and other factors, but not all. That’s one reason why, if you’re truly considering a lawsuit, it’s important to discuss your case with local employment lawyers rather than relying on general advice.
- What Supports a Workplace Discrimination Lawsuit?
In order to base an unfair hiring or unfair dismissal claim on workplace discrimination, you must prove that you were passed over or fired specifically because of your inclusion in a protected class; there are many cases in which an employer could argue that a woman was fired not for being a woman, for example, but for not being good at her job. For this reason, you must expect to prove that you were, in fact, qualified for the position in question. The vast majority of unfair dismissal claims deal with this issue, since employers are rarely explicit about their prejudices.
- What Kind of Evidence Proves Discrimination?
There are several ways you might go about demonstrating that your status in a protected class was the key factor in your employer’s hiring/firing decision. If your employer made explicit statements to that effect (such as “I don’t think a woman is well suited for this job,” or “I don’t want anyone of your religion working here”), then that would be strong evidence you should attempt to document or corroborate. Statistics regarding your employer’s hiring and firing practices might also be relevant, such as people only of one race, sex or religion being hired despite numerous diverse and qualified applicants.
Did you know that a large portion of employee lawsuits filed in the U.S. (about 41.5%) deal with small, private companies that employ only between 15 and 100 employees? Discuss in the comments.