Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 is the main federal anti-discrimination legislation which prohibits most, if not all, forms of workplace discrimination. The main types of discrimination prohibited by the act are:
- religious affiliation;
- national origin;
Additional amendments to Title VII include discrimination against female workers who are pregnant. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) extends prohibition to discrimination based on age (for workers over 40), while Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination against workers who have a disability.
Note that employers are also prohibited from retaliating against any complaint you file against them.
Title VII discrimination legislation and complaints are handled and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC, once it has received a formal complaint, will appoint someone to investigate to find out whether there has been a violation of the act. The EEOC has the power to issue fines and even lay criminal charges, but its main aim is to resolve a discrimination issue. It will allow you to sue the employer if there is no resolution possible through them.
What to Do If You Believe You Are Being Discriminated Against
Most employers who discriminate against a class of employee will often have done so before or even discriminate on a regular or systematic basis.
You will need to have evidence of the discrimination you believe you are experiencing if you are hopeful of a successful resolution of the complaint, even if you do not need evidence immediately available when filing a charge of discrimination.
The EEOC is unlikely to be able to resolve a case unless you can provide sufficient evidence of discrimination.
You should make a note of all instances of discrimination against you, including who was responsible, dates, how you were discriminated against, how this affected your ability to do your work, and emotional and /or psychological effects on you.
If you have taken medication or seen a doctor or psychiatrist, for example, make sure you obtain documentation showing how this related to your workplace experience.
Retain any notes, letters, emails, or other communication that shows that you have been discriminated against.
If you have any audio or video recording taken which helps to show that you were discriminated against, these are useful evidence.
Other co-workers can provide valuable evidence, especially if their accounts show that the employer has been practicing systematic discrimination against a class of employee, e.g. all females, or all people of color, etc.
You will then need to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. You can do this by visiting an EEOC office, by using the online portal, or by letter.
It is best to discuss the discrimination with an EEOC officer first to make sure that your experience is covered by the legislation the EEOC enforces. If you do not live close to an EEOC center or want more legal advice first, discuss the experience of discrimination with an employment lawyer.
There are time limits that determine when you are allowed to file a charge of discrimination. This is normally 180 days from the date of the discrimination experienced, although this may depend on the state you are working in and state laws on discrimination which may complement or extend those of Title VII.
The EEOC does not permit you to file a lawsuit until a charge of discrimination has been processed by them.
How an Attorney Can Help
Taking legal action against an employer can be a stressful experience. Many workers are fearful of doing so because they are worried that they could make things worse or lose their jobs.
It is important to remember that discrimination is illegal and that there is a system in place to help you resolve an issue you have with your employer.
It is advisable to discuss your discrimination case with an employment lawyer first as this will help you to confirm whether you have a genuine case against your employer. The lawyer will be able to help you obtain evidence that could help support your claim with the EEOC.
The lawyer may also help negotiate on your behalf if the EEOC organizes a joint meeting with your employer. If all else fails and the lawyer thinks that you have a good chance of winning a lawsuit, then the lawyer will help you to file a case against your employer through the civil court.