Employment Discrimination Lawyers
Employment discrimination is unlawful when an employer treats an employee or job applicant less favorably than other employees or applicants on the basis of a protected class. Federal and Texas law prohibit discrimination on the basis of several protected statuses and traits. If your employer discriminated against you, then you should speak with a Texas employment lawyer right away. Employment discrimination claims are often complex and require you to follow specific procedures within a limited period of time. Your employment lawyer can advise you on your rights and how to pursue your claims.
What is Workplace Discrimination?
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated differently or unfairly due to their membership in a protected class. Protected classes are groups of people who are legally protected against discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity, religion, disability, or age.
Discrimination can take many forms, including but not limited to, hiring and firing decisions, promotions, pay, training opportunities, and working conditions. Employers are prohibited by law from making decisions based on an employee’s or job applicant’s protected class status.
Understanding Your Rights
If you believe you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, you have legal rights. The first step is to speak with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer who can help you understand your rights and guide you through the legal process.
Under federal and state law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their membership in a protected class. Additionally, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Prohibited forms of employment discrimination
Texas and federal law prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of several protected statuses and traits. These legal protections often include more than just your personal traits. They can also extend to your association with family members and certain social institutions. For example, an employer cannot discriminate against you because your spouse is another race or you have a child with a disability. If you suspect you suffered discrimination at work or during a hiring process you should speak with an employment attorney. Your attorney can investigate your situation and advise you whether you have a legal claim.
Federal and Texas employment discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against the same protected classes, although there are many differences in procedures and rules between federal and state law. The protected classes under these laws include:
- Race / Ethnicity
- National origin
- Gender / Sex / Sexual orientation /Pregnancy
- Age (over forty)
- Genetic information
Texas law incorporates most of these protections under Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code; however, federal law has many statutes prohibiting employment discrimination. These statutes have been amended over the past sixty years. They include:
- Civil Rights Act of 1866
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Civil Rights Act of 1991
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Rehabilitation Act of 1974
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
- Equal Pay Act
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
Together with these statutes are other bodies of employment discrimination law including court opinions, executive orders and administrative regulations from the EEOC and other agencies.
In addition to these protected classes, other labor and employment laws prohibit discrimination on exercising protected rights. These include:
- Taking family leave or medical leave under the FMLA
- Service on a jury
- Active or reserve military duty
- Exercising First Amendment rights to political speech for government employees
Anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions under the applicable laws to these rights are generally separate from the administrative processes and remedies available under employment discrimination laws.
Employment discrimination claims
Employment discrimination claims generally involve at least one of three types of behavior by an employer:
- An adverse employment action
Adverse employment action
An adverse employment action, sometimes referred to as a tangible employment action, occurs when the employer acts against the employee in a manner that is harmful to the employee’s employment, job duties, compensation, or other terms and conditions of the job. To substantiate a claim the adverse action must be “materially adverse” meaning it had a real effect on the employee or applicant. Whether an act is materially adverse is a question of fact. An adverse employment action often includes:
- Failure to hire
- Failure to promote
- Pay cuts
- Refusing to give a raise or bonus
- Negative job review
- Placing an employee on leave
- Refusing to give or taking away job duties
- Giving a negative job reference to a future employer
- Disciplinary or corrective actions
Under most adverse employment action claims the employer’s adverse action must be motivated by a discriminatory intent against a protected class. Your employment lawyer must prove the adverse act occurred because of the protected class.
An adverse employment action claim may also arise as a disparate impact claim. Disparate impact claims occur when an employer has a non-discriminatory policy that has a discriminatory impact on a protected class. For example, an employer’s hiring practices may have a truly neutral intent but by operation discriminates against women or black applicants.
An employment discrimination claim can also arise from harassment or a hostile work environment. Most harassment claims involve a hostile work environment in which the workplace is infected with severe or pervasive offensive conduct related to a protected class. Sexual harassment may involve a quid pro quo exchange of sexual or romantic acts to obtain a benefit, such as a raise, or avoid a negative consequence, like a demotion.
Hostile work environment claims can be particularly complex and technical because the legal standard requires more than minor inconveniences or stray remarks; however, there are very few clear lines when a workplace has become so toxic that a valid claim exists. As a result, your employment lawyer will have to investigate your claim thoroughly and present a strong case based on the facts.
Each employment discrimination statute prohibits retaliation for an employee or applicant engaging in a protected activity. A protected activity includes opposing a discriminatory act, asserting your rights under an employment discrimination law and participating in an investigation, complaint, or hearing involving a discriminatory act.
You have the right under employment discrimination laws to oppose discriminatory acts and pursue claims. When your employer retaliates for these acts, they violate that right. Retaliation creates an independent claim against the employer for the retaliatory act.
Retaliation can occur because you engaged in a protected activity on your own behalf or because you participated in a protected activity involving another person. You are protected from retaliation for reporting discriminatory acts against a colleague, participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint by a coworker, or testifying in a deposition or hearing in a coworker’s discrimination case.
Requirements in an employment discrimination case
Employment discrimination cases are challenging cases for many reasons but one reason is that most anti-discrimination statutes include administrative requirements you must fulfill before you can file a lawsuit in your case. If you do not fulfill the administrative requirements you generally cannot pursue a lawsuit. Not all statutes require the same administrative steps and the steps may differ depending upon your employer and the laws that relate to your claims. Sorting these issues out is one job your employment lawyer must perform for your case.
One of these administrative complaints is that you must file a charge of discrimination with the appropriate agency alleging discrimination by the employer. Most federal claims will be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) while state claims in Texas generally are filed with the Texas Workforce Commission. Federal employees have different options for where they may file a discrimination complaint. Deciding which agency to file a charge and whether to cross-file with other agencies is not always an easy question.
Additionally, your charge of discrimination must be filed with the agency within a limited time period. Federal claims that require a charge must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act, except federal employees must file within forty-five days. Most Texas claims must be filed within 180 days. When this time period begins running can also be a contested issue between employer and employee.
Some employment discrimination claims do not require filing a charge of discrimination and other statutes of limitations apply to those claims.
Learn more about employment discrimination
Looking for more information about employment discrimination? Check out these other posts:
- EEOC lawyers busy with discrimination claims
- Differences between race discrimination claims under Title VII and Section 1981
- Are EEOC complains confidential?
- EEOC focus on age discrimination
- EEOC mediation and settlement amounts
- EEOC hits Dunkin Donuts with $330k sexual harassment lawsuit
- What is the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting framework?
- Texas leads in age discrimination complaints
- Dismissal notices from the EEOC and your right to sue
- Job reinstatement after an employment discrimination claim
- Same race discrimination also prohibited
- What is sexual harassment?
Hiring employment discrimination lawyers in Texas
Texas employees who believe they suffered discrimination should talk to an employment lawyer right away. You may have very little time to protect your claim if a discriminatory act took place. If the discriminatory act is ongoing right now, your employment discrimination lawyer can advise you how to proceed to protect yourself and prepare to pursue a case if necessary.