Discrimination and Harassment
There are various discrimination laws that apply in the workplace. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (more often referred to simply as Title VII) forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was designed “to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment.”
- The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 and prohibits discrimination based on disability.
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health care providers from using genetic information or an individual’s genetic predisposition to certain diseases as the basis for denying coverage or charging higher premiums. It also prohibits employers from using the same information when making decisions regarding hiring, firing, and promotions.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed to amend Title VII, and forbids discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth.
- Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code contains the state’s own anti-discrimination statutes, which are similar but not identical to the federal acts listed above.
Retaliation can occur in many forms, including termination of employment, demotion, or official reprimands. In some instances, employers will retaliate against employees who make formal complaints, or who file discrimination claims against them. Retaliation can also come in response to an employee refusing to take part in an illegal act, or reporting an illegal act to the authorities.
Generally, in order for retaliation to be illegal, the employee must show that he or she was engaged in protected activity, such as filing or serving as a witness to a complaint, voicing concerns about workplace discrimination to management, refusing to discriminate against others, or cooperating with an investigation into an employer. Another form of retaliation relates to workers’ compensation claims, after an employee is injured on the job. Rather than file the appropriate insurance claim, the injured employee is simply fired.
Discrimination and harassment can be based on any of the factors mentioned above.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, and is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in part as “unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Employers often pay lip service to the EEOC definition in their workplace policies without taking the steps to prevent and correct harassment in the workplace.
There are several laws designed to protect employees when they alert law enforcement to illegal acts committed by their employers, also known as “whistleblowing.”
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, also known as the more-wieldy, “Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protect Act,” enacted several reforms intended to prevent accounting fraud, as well as criminalize certain forms of misconduct by public boards.
- Sabine Pilot is an exception to the employment-at-will rule that typically governs employment cases in the state of Texas, and so-named for the 1985 case heard by the Texas Supreme Court, Sabine Pilot Serv. V. Hauck. It’s designed to protect employees who refuse and are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act on behalf of their employer. These cases are generally very narrowly defined. For example, an employee can’t commit the illegal act, and then come forward after the fact. Furthermore, they can’t claim they were fired for refusing to commit an illegal act, as well as their sex, or age, etc.
- The Texas Whistleblower Act applies to government employees. If you’re an employee of the government and report a violation of law to an appropriate law enforcement authority, it is illegal for you to be fired for it.
Claims of retaliation are often proven by circumstantial evidence. The reason for this is simple: Employers (in most cases) understand what discrimination is, and are careful not to tell you outright that you’re losing your job because you’re too old, or recently had a child, or because of a disability. Circumstantial evidence might include discriminatory remarks, such as those related to age or sex. It might include an employer giving false or shifting reasons for an employment action, such as a demotion or failure to promote. It can also include an employee being replaced by someone outside their protected class, such as a woman being replaced by a man.
Also examined is the length of time between an event and subsequent firing. For example, if you made a complaint to your manager, and then, a week later, are let go, it’s much more likely your firing has something to do with the complaint than if you were fired a year later. This is often referred to as “temporal proximity.”
When one suspects that they’ve been fired from their job for retaliatory reasons, figuring out a path forward can be daunting. Williams Law Firm, P.C. has dealt with all forms of discrimination, and can help you. Contact us and speak with one of our attorneys today.