Employee Discrimination Claims
Companies in the United States are subject to a multitude of federal laws that protect employees against discrimination in the workplace. However, the protections afforded to workers are not absolute, and employers will often have clear defenses to liability.
While most company owners, executives, and in-house counsel are aware of the basic prohibition on discrimination in the workplace, the breadth of the protections afforded to employees is significantly greater than many company leaders recognize. There are several federal laws that provide varying protections under varying circumstances, and state anti-discrimination laws provide expanded protections in many cases as well.
When faced with allegations of discrimination, companies must react swiftly in order to protect themselves. It is imperative to conduct an internal investigation regardless of the circumstances involved, as failing to investigate can itself be viewed as a sign of inadequate attention to workers’ rights. The investigation must be documented comprehensively; and, if the investigation uncovers evidence suggesting that the employee’s allegations have merit, then the company’s response must be tailored to remedying the issue without unnecessarily creating additional exposure to liability.
Employer Defense Attorneys and Former Federal Law Enforcement Agents with Significant Experience in Workplace Discrimination Matters
Our firm represents employers in discrimination litigation across the country. We advise our clients at all stages of the process, from the initial response and internal investigation through litigation and appeals. We handle discrimination cases under state and federal law, and we represent employers in court as well as before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and its state-level counterparts.
When you choose Oberheiden P.C., your company will be represented by senior attorneys, all of whom have a decade or more of experience, and many of whom spent decades as prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office prior to entering private practice. Your company will also receive advice from our senior litigation consultants, who previously served as high-ranking agents with the DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other federal law enforcement agencies. Together, our attorneys and consultants offer centuries of experience in investigations and litigation, and we can use this experience to efficiently protect your company against allegations of unlawful workplace discrimination.
Common Issues in Employment Discrimination Litigation
Companies can face discrimination allegations in virtually all aspects of the employment relationship. In fact, the risk of facing allegations of unlawful discrimination actually arises before the employment relationship begins. We represent employers in litigation involving issues including:
Job postings in all media must promote equal employment opportunities regardless of job candidates’ protected characteristics. For example, companies must be extremely cautious about promoting job opportunities to candidates of a particular sex or in a particular age group.
The Recruitment Process
Similarly, during the recruitment process, companies must continue to make clear that all qualified candidates will be treated similarly. They must also avoid recruitment strategies that target particular groups of candidates, even if these strategies are not overtly discriminatory in nature.
The Hiring Process
When evaluating job applications and making hiring decisions, employers must continue to focus solely on factors that are pertinent to candidates’ ability to fill the posted position. In addition to avoiding any decisions based on candidates’ age, sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, or other protected characteristics as learned during the interview process, companies must also avoid utilizing tests and other evaluation tools that have the potential to prove discriminatory in their application.
Job Assignments and Working Conditions
When assigning new and existing employees to particular jobs and work locations, companies must continue to avoid making decisions that are discriminatory in nature (or that even appear to arguably be discriminatory in nature). All decisions regarding job assignments should be clearly documented, and they should adhere to the company’s internal employment policies and procedures.
Compensation and Benefits
General anti-discrimination laws apply to decisions regarding employee compensation and benefits; and, at the federal level, the Equal Pay Act applies specifically to sex-based discrimination. However, while the Equal Pay Act and other anti-discrimination laws require “equal pay for equal work,” there are several different lawful justifications for employers offering disparate compensation to employees who serve in similar employment positions.
Promotions and Pay Increases
The same rules that apply to the initial determination of employees’ compensation and benefits apply to determinations regarding promotions and pay increases as well. Along with wrongful termination claims, claims related to raises and promotions are among the most-common issues in employment-related discrimination litigation.
When enforcing employees’ responsibilities, whether in terms of their specific job duties or in terms of adhering the company’s general policies and procedures, companies may not take into account their employees’ protected characteristics. Disciplinary action that appears to factor in employees’ protected characteristics (including, but not limited to, age, sex, race, ethnicity, national origin) can lead to the potential for substantial liability in employment discrimination litigation.
Wrongful termination claims are easily among the most common triggers for employment discrimination lawsuits. When employees who lose their jobs have reason to believe that they are victims of discrimination, they will often hire plaintiff’s lawyers to vigorously pursue claims for damages. Prior to terminating employees with protected characteristics, employers must thoroughly document the reason for terminating these employees’ employment (whether due to disciplinary reasons or a reduction in force), as such documentation will often prove to be crucial evidence in the defense of wrongful termination claims.
Employers that are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and analogous state laws must provide reasonable accommodations to their disabled employees. When providing reasonable accommodations, but only must employers adhere to the stringent requirements of the ADA, but they must avoid other forms of discrimination when providing reasonable accommodations as well.
Defense Strategies for Employment Discrimination Claims
Companies that are accused of wrongful employment discrimination must work quickly to investigate the allegations and determine what defenses they can utilize to avoid or mitigate civil liability. While there are several potential defenses to unlawful discrimination claims, many of these defenses are highly dependent upon the factual circumstances involved. The defenses that are available will also depend heavily on the specific statute(s) underlying the employee’s allegations. Subject to these caveats, examples of potential defenses to employees’ unlawful discrimination claims include:
- The Statute Does Not Apply. Many anti-discrimination statutes only apply to employers with specified minimum numbers of employees. For example, at the federal level, the prohibition on age discrimination in employment applies only to companies with 20 or more employees.
- The Worker is Not Eligible for Protection. While most workers who are members of protected classes are protected by the relevant anti-discrimination laws, there are some exceptions. For example, certain volunteers do not qualify as “employees” under the federal anti-discrimination laws.
- The Alleged Act is Not Discriminatory. Many employment discrimination claims are resolved by demonstrating that the alleged act, even if committed, is not discriminatory in nature. For example, in Equal Pay Act claims, employers can avoid liability by demonstrating that their compensation decisions are based on valid merit or seniority-based systems. Likewise, companies that have thoroughly documented the legitimate bases for their employment-related decisions will often be able to avoid liability by demonstrating that their decisions were justified.
- The Employee Fabricated the Allegations. Unfortunately, many employees fabricate discrimination allegations in hopes of receiving payment from their employers. Internal investigations will often provide evidence of the falsity of the employee’s allegations, and when this is the case the matter can usually be swiftly resolved.
- There is Not Sufficient Evidence of Liability. In employment discrimination cases, the employee has the burden of proof. If an employee cannot present sufficient evidence to substantiate his or her allegations, then no finding of liability is warranted.
We Represent Employers Nationwide in Discrimination Matters Under All State and Federal Statutes
At the federal level, there are multiple laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Our employment discrimination practice encompasses investigations and litigation involving all pertinent statutes. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Equal Pay Act (EPA)
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA)
States have their own anti-discrimination legislation as well, and the state-level prohibitions can vary widely. As a result, when facing discrimination claims, employers must ensure that they have a clear understanding of the law or laws at issue, and they must tailor their defense strategies to the specific state or federal prohibitions at issue.
Contact the Employer Defense Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C.
If one of your company’s employees has filed a discrimination claim, if an employee has threatened litigation, or if you have heard grumblings of possible allegations of discriminatory employment practices, engaging experienced defense counsel promptly will afford the greatest opportunity to quickly resolve the matter without liability. To speak with one of our senior employer defense lawyers in confidence, call 888-680-1745 or request a free case assessment online now.