While discrimination may have sadly been commonplace as recently as a decade ago, in modern society there are laws protecting individuals from this outdated practice. Those laws extend to the workplace, and, in fact, workplace discrimination can have severe consequences for the offender.
Unfortunately, discrimination still happens, even with all of the procedures and protocols set in place to prevent it. When someone is a victim of discrimination in the workplace, there are state and federal agencies that must be contacted and steps that need to be followed in order for the victim’s rights to be protected.
If you believe that you were previously or are currently a victim of discrimination in the workplace, here are the first steps that you need to take to ensure that your voice is heard and those actions are stopped.
What to Do If You Are Experiencing Harassment in the Workplace
If you are currently uncomfortable in your work environment because you feel that someone is discriminating against you for whatever reason, you need to step up and say something. This may be hard, but it is necessary. At this stage, it is harassment, but the person may not notice their behavior is hurtful and they may stop their actions if you make them aware.
Talk to the person causing the harmful behavior and ask them to stop. At best, they will, and at worst, they won’t, and you will need to take your complaints to the next level. At that level, though, they will ask you if you spoke to the person you are complaining about, so you need to be able to answer them honestly.
When you call a person out on their discriminatory behavior, you are informing them that you are uncomfortable with the situation and their behavior is unwelcome. Document the date and time that you did this and the other party’s reaction and response.
If the unwelcome behavior continues, speak to a supervisor. Ask them how to file a harassment or discrimination complaint and tell them you want to make your grievance official. Follow the instructions on the forms they provide to you and keep a copy for yourself.
This is an extra important step because if the company you are working for knows about the discrimination and does not attempt to stop it, they can also be held liable for continued behaviors. The company is now officially aware of the discriminating acts and is responsible for stopping them.
Beyond Harassment: Take the Next Steps
Often, the previous two steps will be enough to stop a harassing act. Most employers take the threat of discrimination very seriously and will enforce steps and actions to ensure the offending party no longer performs the unwelcome behavior.
But if you have taken those steps and documented your progress and the actions still occur, you can now fill out an administrative charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s equivalent agency. This is a must- you can’t file a lawsuit against someone later for discrimination in the workplace without having first filed a charge against them with the EEOC.
You may also be required to file an administrative complaint with your state’s agencies as well, depending on the laws where you live. Be sure to ask an attorney to help you with this.
What Happens When the EEOC is Involved?
Now that you have filed a charge with the EEOC, their agency will notify your employer that there is an action against them. They can decide whether to investigate your allegations, dismiss your charges completely, or attempt to get you and your employer to work out a mediation to settle the matter.
Because your side of the story is crucial to the EEOC’s decision, it is critical that you have your documentation and evidence firmly organized and in place prior to contacting them. Anything that you document should have a date, time, and summary recorded. All of your documents should be saved and stored together.
Even though by this point of the discrimination it is normal for emotions to be strong, it is important for you to present your side in a calm, organized manner. The evidence and documentation you provide can help you explain what happened even if you do get upset in the retelling.
Usually, the EEOC has 180 days to respond and act on your complaint. This can mean that they tell you that they believe you don’t have strong enough cause to open a case or that they think you have sufficient justification to continue to pursue your complaint with the EEOC. If this happens, they will fill out an EEOC Charge of Discrimination form that describes the occurrences.
After their investigation or initial actions are completed, they may decide to file a lawsuit on your behalf if the actions warrant extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, they will process your claim and give you a letter that gives you the right to sue, at which time, you should obtain an attorney and file a lawsuit.
There are deadlines for filing the administrative charges and filing the lawsuits, so your lawyer can guide you through this stressful time and ensure that you do everything by the book. He or she can also work with you to attempt to mediate with your employer when that becomes necessary.
How Your Attorney Will Help You
The federal and state agencies have laws in place to protect you from discrimination, but this does not mean that they are automatically on your side. You have to provide sufficient evidence to convince them that your accusation is not just a random act of a disgruntled employee or an attempt to target someone you dislike.
The EEOC and FEPA (Fair Employment Practices) agencies that will investigate your claim are purposefully set up as neutral parties. As such, you and your employer each have equal opportunity to sway them to your side. This means you must have evidence and organization. Your attorney can help you to put all of this together and let you know before you file the initial complaint whether or not you have a strong case.
The attorney that you retain can investigate for you, help you to prepare the initial questionnaires and forms, and give you advice that can increase your chances of obtaining the coveted “right to sue” letter. After that, they can file the lawsuit for you, regardless of whether it is at the federal or state level.
Once the lawsuit is filed, pretrial discovery rules apply and can be used for your attorney to take depositions of anyone involved, from your employer and fellow employees to any others who may have any knowledge of the situation.
Your attorney will also be your best chance to get documentation and evidence collected. He or she will subpoena your employer’s records, including personnel files and emails, and sort through all of the documents to determine what may or may not be pertinent.
What to Expect When You File a Discrimination Lawsuit
Discrimination lawsuits are unique to each individual situation. However, if you are successful in proving your claim, you can recover certain forms of compensation, or “damages,” from your employer. These can include such financial items as back pay, job reinstatement, promotions, and more.
You may also be entitled to “reasonable accommodations,” or a small amount of money that is in addition to the other compensation you receive. There are not generally large monetary damages awarded in a job discrimination suit. These are usually seen more in large, class action employment discrimination lawsuits.
However, your attorney representation plays a large role in the success of your case. The more experience and knowledge your lawyer has in employment and labor law, the better your chances of proving your claim.
In fact, there are many attorneys who refuse to take on these types of cases because of the complexity involved. Hershey Injury Law has experienced lawyers ready to help you win your case and stop the discrimination from continuing to occur.
Whether you are filing a lawsuit at the EEOC (federal) or FEPA (state) level, your employer has likely already hired legal representation to mount a defense. By this time, if your employer has not agreed to a mediation, your case will likely go to court in a trial with a jury panel.
Protect Your Rights – Discrimination is Wrong
Your job is your livelihood and it should be a safe, comfortable environment when you are there. When someone in that environment causes you to feel uncomfortable to the point that you no longer feel safe doing your job, or you are a victim of discrimination in the workplace that is not resolved by your employer, you need to protect your rights and your income.
We at Hershey Injury Law understand that you as an individual can’t fight this on your own, and we are ready to help you to defend your rights and prevent discrimination from being allowed to continue. Contact us today for your free consultation to see how we can help you take a stand.