What are the different types of employment discrimination?

Under local, state, and federal law, certain groups (e.g. racial minorities, women, disabled people) are entitled to protection from harassment and discrimination in the workplace because, historically, they have been subjected to inferior or disfavored treatment. These groups are known as “protected classes.” Although employment discrimination against members of protected classes is illegal at both the state and federal levels, the protections afforded under law sometimes differ. For example, a group entitled to protection under state law (e.g. gay and lesbian people) may not be entitled to protection under federal law.

Essentially, employment discrimination occurs when an employer treats two similarly-situated people (i.e. same job, same professional qualifications) differently with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment (e.g. hiring, firing, promotion, discipline) based on one person’s membership in a protected class.

Unfortunately, not everything that happens in the workplace that is mean, rude, disrespectful, or unprofessional amounts to illegal employment discrimination. Employment discrimination is a technical legal concept. To be actionable under state and federal law, the conduct must be “because of” the individual’s membership in a legally protected class.

What should I do if I feel as though I have been discriminated against by my employer?

If an employee believes that he or she is being subjected to harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it is critically important for the employee to document what is taking place. The employee should maintain contemporaneous notes or a chronology of relevant events and should preserve any and all documents (e.g. e-mails, performance reviews, memos, meeting notes) that the employee believes are evidence of discriminatory treatment. Since there rarely is a “smoking gun” in employment discrimination cases, the employee’s documentation may be the best available evidence of the employer’s discriminatory conduct.

The employee also should schedule an appointment with Human Resources as soon as possible. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Most employers take this legal obligation seriously and will immediately conduct an investigation to determine whether the employee’s complaints have merit and whether corrective action is warranted. Going to Human Resources also has the added benefit of allowing the employee to further document the situation, as the results of the employer’s investigation are often added to the employee’s personnel file.

Finally, it is important for the employee to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Oftentimes, an attorney will be able to guide the employee as the situation in the workplace unfolds. An attorney may encourage the employee to take steps to protect his or her legal rights that the employee ordinarily would not take on his or her own.

What types of employment discrimination cases have MDA handled in the past?

MDA has handled cases involving employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, age, disability, and sexual orientation. We have broad-based experience representing both employers and employees in employment discrimination cases. Representing clients who believe they have been subjected to discrimination as well as clients who are accused of discrimination has provided valuable insight and perspective to our attorneys.

What were the outcomes to some of those cases?

Although we are not at liberty to discuss the specific details of individual cases, we have obtained substantial monetary settlements for clients who have sued their employers for acts of employment discrimination. We have negotiated the terms of severance packages for employees who are no longer able to work for a particular employer due to harassment or discrimination in the workplace. We currently represent a number of employer and employee clients before state and federal administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), and the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. We fully anticipate a positive outcome for these clients. Clients should be mindful that employment discrimination cases take time to resolve and typically do not settle overnight. Even with an attorney working diligently on your behalf, these cases take time.

Is there a time limit when filing a discrimination charge?

It is critically important for a client to consult with an attorney as soon as possible if he or she believes that an employer has engaged in a discriminatory act, as there are time limits in all employment discrimination cases. These time limits are strictly adhered to. If an individual waits too long to assert his or her legal rights, he or she may be forever barred from doing so.

Martineau Davis & Associates is committed to aggressive advocacy for our clients while maintaining the highest level of professionalism, integrity, and ethical standards. Contact us at 401-234-0751.

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