Workplace abuse may be the result of illegal discrimination. If so, the victim can file a civil rights lawsuit against the employer. It is important to recognize that the plaintiff must prove both harassment and discrimination. In other words, a target of bullying also must fall within a protected category (e.g. sex, race) under federal civil rights laws.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency that enforces federal civil rights laws.
Federal laws generally prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, genetic information, pregnancy, race/color, religion and sex. These laws also make it illegal to retaliate against a person who has complained about discrimination or who participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Below are some of the categories of protected classes under federal civil rights law.
- RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, OR SEX
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
Title VII was amended by The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which makes it illegal to discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
- EQUAL PAY
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform the same work in the same workplace.
- AGE DISCRIMINATION
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to discrimination against people who are 40 years of age or older on the basis of age.
Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitation of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the federal government.
- GENETIC INFORMATION
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which took force on November 21, 2009, makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder or condition of an individual’s family members.
Sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can involve either females or males. In addition, Title VII covers discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender, which is also known as gender identity discrimination, or because the individual is lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
The EEOC has promulgated guidelines pursuant to the adoption of Title VII which make sexual harassment illegal. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
– Made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.
– Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual, or
– Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
With respect to fellow employees, an employer is responsible for acts of sexual harassment in the workplace where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) know or should have known of the conduct, unless it can show that it took immediate appropriate corrective action.
NOTE: These laws are discussed in depth in my book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace. Also, for additional information or developments with respect to the above laws, use the search form on this blog.