I often receive calls from potential clients who are confident that they have been victims of discrimination or harassment, or that they have been wrongfully terminated, yet they may not be aware of the legal meanings of those terms. The law protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on Race, Color, Sex, National Origin, Age (over 40), Disability, Pregnancy, and Genetic Information. To be clear, Indiana is an “at will” employment state. That simply means that most of us work at the will of our employers. Stated another way, we can be fired for any reason (or no reason at all) just not a discriminatory reason. For example, there is nothing illegal about an employer firing an employee based on the quality of his or her work. But, it would be illegal to fire an employee based on their race or age, or gender. Rare is the case where an employer will actually say, “I am firing you because you are too old.” Therefore, we might have to infer the reason, based on other factors. Does your boss suggest that you are too old for the job? Do they ask you questions like, “When are you going to retire?” These types of things might suggest that age was a factor in your termination, even though the employer’s stated reason for firing you was because of “poor work performance.”
There are some really good resources available, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), that explain what is meant by wrongful termination, and how those laws apply to employees. The EEOC is the federal agency that is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the United States. In fact, most discrimination claims must first be filed with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit against the employer. This process is known as “exhausting your administrative remedies.” Below are some links to some very useful information as it pertains to different types of Discrimination and Harassment:
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. For more information on what constitutes harassment, you can go to the EEOC’s site by clicking the link below:
Another type of prohibited activity is Retaliation. To be illegal, the retaliation in the employment context must be related to a “protected activity.” For example, if you complained to your Human Resources department that you were being discriminated against based on sex, and then you were immediately fired for engaging in that protected activity, that would be considered retaliation. Below is some useful information to help you understand what types of retaliation are prohibited by employers: https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation
Lastly, we often get calls about how to collect unpaid wages. If the amount is less than $6,000, the best way to collect those wages is by filing an Online Wage Claim with the Indiana Department of Labor (“IDOL”). Below is a link to the IDOL’s Online Wage Claim Form along with instructions for how to proceed. It the amount is greater than $6,000, we suggest that call us for a free consultation with one of our attorneys that is familiar with Indiana’s Wage Claim and Wage Payment Statutes.
Hi. My name is Chip Clark, and I am a partner at Goodin Abernathy, where I focus primarily on the rights of employees.
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, holding that federal law prohibits employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers.
Interestingly, conservative Justice, Neil M. Gorsuch, wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling, stating:
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The case concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether that last prohibition — discrimination “because of sex”— applies to many millions of gay and transgender workers.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that it did.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,”
Gorsuch goes on to say,
“It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The court considered two sets of cases. The first concerned a pair of lawsuits from gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623. The second was based on gender identity. In that case, Aimee Stephens, was a funeral director working near Detroit when she was fired in 2013 after announcing she would begin living as a woman. Sadly, Aimee died in May at the age of 59, not living to see her heroic contribution to this landmark decision. Her willingness to stand up to her employer now makes it it illegal for employers to terminate an employee based on gender identity.
In 27 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to Freedom For All Americans, a bipartisan campaign to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. An employee in one of these states conceivably could be fired for being gay or transgender – and would have no guaranteed rights against it.
In 21 other states, plus the District of Columbia, employees had full protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodation.
There are 8.1 million LGBTQ workers ages 16 and older in the USA, according to the institute. About 3.9 million of those work in those 27 states.
What About Discrimination in Small Businesses with Fewer than 15 Employees?
Unfortunately, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only prohibits employment discrimination by employers with 15 or more employees.
Conceivably, a business with fewer than 15 employees in certain parts of Indiana could still legally fire somebody on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, unless there is a city or county ordinance prohibiting such discrimination.
Here, in the City of Indianapolis, we have had an ordinance that prohibits such discrimination since 2005. Other Indiana communities have laws to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity, so there still remains a patchwork of laws if your employer has fewer than 15 employees.
What Should Workers Do If They Are Fired Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?
If you’re fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the first call you should make is to an attorney who knows and understands this area of the law. We can assist you with filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the local agency that enforces state or local anti-discrimination laws. This is the first step in filing a lawsuit in Federal or State Court against an employer who discriminates.
If you have questions about your rights as a member of the LGBTQ community, please call me for free, no obligation, consultation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a Resolution mourning the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery last week. In the resolution, the EEOC committed the agency to redouble its efforts to address institutionalized racism, advance justice, and foster equal opportunity in the workplace.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
The anti-discrimination laws provide a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, a person needs to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180-calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges. For age discrimination, the filing deadline is only extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. The deadline is not extended if only a local law prohibits age discrimination.
Once the Charge is filed, it is sent to your employer, and they are given an opportunity to investigate the allegations and file a response. The employer may conduct the investigation internally, or, they may choose to hire an outside attorney to investigate the allegations in your Charge. The employer’s response is referred to as their “Position Statement.” Usually, the Position Statement filed by your employer will deny the allegations in your Charge, and may state other non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action that has been taken against you. For example, the employer may state that you were a bad employee, that you missed too much work, or you did not follow instructions. If this is the case, the EEOC may ask you to provide additional evidence to support your claim of discrimination or harassment.
Once both sides have had an adequate opportunity to state their respective positions, the EEOC may move forward with an investigation.
WILL THE EEOC HELP ME SETTLE MY CASE?
If both sides agree, the EEOC may refer your case for a settlement conference, also called “mediation.” The EEOC has mediators on staff who will help both parties to resolve your dispute.
If both parties don’t agree to mediation, or if mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC will move forward with an investigation into the allegations in your Charge of Discrimination. They can interview witnesses and request documents from either party to assist with that investigation.
HOW LONG DOES THE EEOC PROCESS TAKE?
Currently, an EEOC investigation can take up to 1 year. However, If the EEOC does not complete its’ investigation within 180 days after you filed your Charge, then you can request that they issue a Right to Sue letter. The Right to Sue letter allows you to file a lawsuit against your employer. It is very important to remember that you cannot file a lawsuit against your employer until you have received the Right to Sue letter from the EEOC.
Upon receipt of your Right to Sue Letter, you have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit against your employer. If you don’t file suit within 90 days, your claim will be barred.
What should I do if I feel I am the victim of harassment or discrimination?
The most important thing to do if you believe you are the victim of harassment or discrimination is to report it to your employer, preferably in writing. If you don’t report, your employer can always deny that they knew that any harassment or discrimination was occurring. Many employers have a handbook which should contain the company’s policies and procedures for reporting discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment. If you report harassment or discrimination, and your employer does not remedy the situation, please call me for a free consultation.
In the next five years, approximately 25% of our workforce will be 55 years or older. For some people like Bruce Arians, a former Colts NFL football coach, jobs are still opening up (see recent news article here). But how are things going for the rest of our older workers? Are you an older professional that was just fired or handed a severance package?
Demographics show a large portion of the Baby Boomer generation is still working. Whether its because they need to work or because they want to work, many 50+ year olds are not retiring. Theoretically, our federal law protects employment discrimination against workers 40 years of age and older. The law is known as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the “ADEA”. But not all employers follow the law, and it’s much tougher for older workers to find new jobs – let alone financially recover from an unexpected severance.
In Indianapolis, our attorneys see this scenario commonly unfold in the medical industry. Goodin Abernathy LLP attorneys are experienced with pharmaceutical and medical device representatives suddenly facing a “forced retirement.” Typical scenarios show the experienced reps are asked to train new, younger sales people. The trainees tag along, meet the customers and learn the ropes. Then, if they aren’t fired, the older rep’s territory just gets split up. Part of the territory is assigned to the younger worker, while the older rep’s compensation package does not change. This means the experienced worker just trained themselves into a pay cut. You can imagine what happens after a little more time when the younger worker learns the ropes: they’re handed both territories and the older worker is shown the door.
Other times the older, experienced worker gets pushed out or “harassed out” of their position. Their younger managers start building flimsy records of statistical violations. They say the older worker isn’t making enough sales calls; is not attending enough meetings; fails to use the company’s technology correctly, etc.
Behind the scenes, the company’s strategy is simple: replace the higher paid, experienced worker with cheaper labor offered by young workers. The older workers – who devoted their careers to improving the company’s interests – get cut loose by new or younger managers trying to make their own numbers look better.
Another typical scheme involves luring away experienced, older workers from competitors. After the older worker shares her book of business and discloses other proprietary information, the new company abruptly lets them go. The new company just wanted the work intel for its younger reps and never really planned to keep the new, older hire on board.
When companies plug younger workers into jobs and push out 40+ year old workers, the experienced workers should contact our Goodin Abernathy LLP attorneys for an ADEA evaluation.
Contact Goodin Abernathy LLP, and we will tell you how to look for signs of illegal ageism or age discrimination. Consult us and we will explain the legal process for an ADEA or EEOC claim with an eye towards enforcing your legal rights.
What happens to whistleblowers and workers facing discrimination in the work place? Tricia Newbold, a dwarf, claims the White House is freezing her out of a job (see article here).
This story reminds me of one of the best cases, and clients, we’ve helped over the years. It involves an American with Disabilities Act claim and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) – legal areas which Goodin Abernathy LLP is experienced in, litigating cases with earnest to represent our clients.
Our client, “B”, is an Achondroplasia Dwarf. Outside of being a dwarf, B had normal dreams and aspirations like the rest of us had at a young age. B came to us because while she was working at a major restaurant chain, a manager and co-workers discriminated against her. They held her back from a job promotion and occasionally made disparaging remarks about her physical stature. They thought it was funny – but the remarks were mean to B.
B started as a hostess and wanted to get promoted to serving tables. Waitresses made more than those in the hostess position. Although the position required different physical requirements, B was up for the challenge.
The problem was, the restaurant outright denied her requests to be a server. On top of it, they were callous about it. The employer did not take time to consider what our laws say about equal opportunity for all workers. And probably worse yet, they did not take the time to consider the moral issues involved with the situation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its 2008 update, the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), provide legal protection for disabled workers in our country. Goodin Abernathy LLP submitted a Charge of Discrimination for B with the local EEOC office. When the EEOC gave us a “Right to Sue” letter, we filed a legal complaint against the employer in Federal Court.
We collected evidence in B’s case, showing the employer failed to reasonably communicate with her about the server’s position. Nor did they consider whether reasonable accommodations would have easily allowed B to perform the server’s job. On top of that, our investigation revealed the rude comments by staff and B’s supervisors.
The company’s attorneys fought and complained, but we did not give up. We did not expect a lot. We did not expect for B to retire on the case – but we did expect to win. B recovered financial compensation allowed under the law. And, we won, because as attorneys, we used the law and fought for somebody’s equal rights.
Contact attorney Chip Clark at Goodin Abernathy, LLP with any ADA or EEOC questions you have. Give us a chance to partner with you – fighting for the legal rights you morally deserve.