Are You a Victim of Workplace Discrimination?

Even though there are federal laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability and other characteristics, bias and pay inequities in the workplace remain a persistent problem.

In fact, last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a total of 75,768 discrimination charges against private sector employers. The most frequent charges were race (27,238), followed by sex (23,247) and retaliation against reporting discrimination (22,555).

In addition, there are new forms of discrimination that are beginning to emerge in the workplace for which there are no federal laws to protect against. And individual state laws can vary widely.

Benefits-Usage Discrimination

Kristin Case, owner of The Case Law Firm in Chicago, is seeing more charges against companies who discriminate against employees who have filed multiple or sizable health insurance claims. "I personally have had a number of cases against companies that are self-insured and the employee or their spouse has had a large claim, and suddenly the employee begins to get written up."

Whistleblower Retaliation

There is not one blanket federal whistleblower protection law. Instead, whistleblower protection is enforced through what Richard Renner, attorney with Tate and Renner of Dover, Ohio, calls a "patchwork" of laws in various areas. For instance, someone who reports environmental wrongdoing may be protected through the Clean Air Act. "The problem," Renner says, "is that there can be a short time limit to file a complaint. Sometimes it's just 30 days." If this deadline is missed, the complaint will go unheard. Those who do turn in co-workers or executives for wrong-doing sometimes find themselves forced out of an organization or are deemed no longer promotable, despite policies that should protect them.

Weight Discrimination

Because there is no national law against weight discrimination, and, Michigan is the only state that has a law pertaining to it, it can be a difficult case to win. Generally, weight discrimination cases are argued under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, but this approach has garnered few successes according to Case.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Case also sees a lot of pregnancy discrimination cases, especially in higher level positions, and notes it is not just male bosses who are committing this type of violation. Case's experience jibes with EEOC complaint figures, which show a 12 percent increase in pregnancy discrimination cases from just five years ago.

This mirrors Peyton's experience. When she announced she was four months pregnant, she noticed all her juicy projects were slowly reassigned to the other woman in her department who was her junior. "It was difficult to for me to sit idle for five months and watch someone else finish up all the projects and get all the credit for assignments I had already done a lot of good work on."

What Can You Do If You Feel You're the Victim of Discrimination?

If you suspect you are the victim of discrimination of any kind, Case suggests you immediately seek legal advice. Renner concurs, especially because some of the time limits to file a charge are so short. You also may file a charge with the EEOC.

Then, you should register a formal complaint internally with your company's human resource department. If you retain legal counsel, there is a good chance your attorney will take on your case with some type of contingency fee arrangement.

If you have been fired and it can be determined that you were discriminated against, you stand to be reinstated in your former position and possibly receive compensation for loss of wages, emotional distress or perhaps defamation.

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Copyright 2007

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