Federal law prohibits employment discrimination because of race, color, national origin, legal alienage, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability and union activity. While most state laws protect workers on the same grounds as federal law, Alabama law provides little protection for workers against discrimination.
Employment discrimination laws generally protect not only present employees, but also former employees and some people, like applicants for jobs, who never have been employees. Some of the federal anti-discrimination laws are:
- 42 U.S.C. section 1981, a federal law that was originally passed after the Civil War, prohibits race discrimination in all contracts, which not only includes employment but also all other types of contracts as well.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination in public services and accommodations.
- Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination because of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. This law applies to public employers and private employers with at least 15 employees, employment agencies, apprenticeship programs and unions. 42 U.S.C. section 1981 prohibits all race discrimination in all contracts, even between individuals.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination because a worker is age 40 or older. The coverage of the ADEA is similar to Title VII except that a private employer needs 20 employees to be covered.
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) protects an alien who is "lawfully admitted for permanent residence" from employment discrimination because she is an alien.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against employees with disabilities.
- The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which is enforced by the National Labor Relations Board rather than the courts, protects employees from discrimination by their employers because they have engaged in union activity.
Making a Claim
Anti-discrimination law in Alabama is generally based on federal statutes, with limited causes of action from state and common law, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case.
In order to make a claim under most of the federal statutes, it is necessary to file a signed written complaint or charge of discrimination with an administrative agency of the government. Generally, a person claiming employment discrimination that violates Title VII, the ADEA, or the ADA must file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days after the discrimination occurs. A claim of discrimination because of union activity must be filed with the National Labor Relations Board within six months of the discharge because of union activity. While there are some exceptions, the failure to file a complaint in time will mean that the discrimination cannot be challenged.
While the NLRB alone enforces charges of union discrimination and the EEOC can start court actions to enforce Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA, most times the person claiming the discrimination must bring an action in court to enforce the law. Once a person receives a determination by the EEOC on their claim, they have only 90 days to start a court action to enforce it. Enforcement actions can be brought in either state or federal court.
Proof of Discrimination
Most discrimination cases require that the employee prove that the employer acted with the intent to discriminate.
- A statement by the boss such as, "I am refusing to promote you because you are a woman," is one kind of evidence that the employer discriminated intentionally because of sex.
- Other evidence, such as proof that the person who won the promotion was less qualified than you, can also be used as long as it is sufficient to persuade a jury that the employer acted with intent to discriminate.
Title VII and the ADEA provide narrow defenses to claims of intentional discrimination where the employer can prove that national origin, religion, sex, or age is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer's particular business. There is no BFOQ defense to claims of race, color, or disability discrimination.
Title VII also prohibits disparate impact discrimination. Disparate impact discrimination occurs when an employer has a policy that in operation works to the greater disadvantage to minority group members or women than to everyone else. Even if the employer does not intend to discriminate when it uses such a policy, the employer violates the law where the policy is not related to the job the employees are to perform and is not necessary to the employer's business.
For example, a policy requiring that employees be a certain height and weight. Such a policy excludes more women than men, more Latinos than others. So, the employer can only continue to use the policy if it can prove that the height and weight requirements are related to the jobs employees perform and are necessary to its business.
The remedies for discrimination include what the law calls equitable as well as legal remedies. Equitable remedies include:
- lost back pay
- an order that the employee be reinstated
- an order to the employer to stop discriminating.
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the federal statutes prohibiting discrimination now provide for a jury trial for claims of intentional discrimination and also provide legal remedies to compensate for the pain and suffering the victims of discrimination have suffered and punitive damages to punish particularly egregious discriminators. Compensatory and punitive damages are subject to caps depending on the size of the employer and cannot exceed $300,000. While the victims of age discrimination cannot get punitive damages, the ADEA does provide for double damages when the employer's action is found to be willful.
Stewart & Hicks, P.C. has provided representation throughout the wide range of employment law issues in both state and federal levels in both the public and private sectors for many years. We have represented a wide variety of clients who have had employment discrimination claims against their employers. Our practice includes the interpreting and construing state and federal statutes and case law in the areas of age, race, gender and disability discrimination, ERISA, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Federal Employer=s Liability Act, employment and non-compete contracts, whistle blower litigation as well as National Labor Relations Board and other union representation issues.
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