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What are the Most Common Worker Discrimination Claims?

October 5th, 2020

Employment discrimination is illegal, and laws exist at the federal, state, and municipal levels to protect workers’ rights. However, discrimination still occurs, as evidenced by a summary of workplace discrimination charges received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in fiscal year 2019. Out of the 72,675 charges received, retaliation in the workplace topped the list of most common worker discrimination claims, at more than 50 percent, followed by discrimination against protected classes. Percentages listed by the EEOC add up to more than 100 because workers may include multiple bases for each charge.

Retaliation Claims are the Most Prevalent

Consistent with prior years, retaliation continued to be the most frequently filed charges received by the EEOC in 2019. Charges of retaliation are often filed in conjunction with other claims, such as when workers believe they have been terminated in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from engaging in retaliation against employees who have engaged in protected activities. Examples of protected conduct include but are not limited to the following:

  • Asking the employer to provide reasonable accommodation for a disability.
  • Complaining about or filing charges of discrimination.
  • Refusing to obey an instruction that is discriminatory.
  • Cooperating with investigations of discrimination.
  • Absence from work to care for a family member as provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Hiring an attorney to file a complaint.

Employers are also prohibited from retaliatory acts when workers engage in picketing or other peaceful protests in opposition to discrimination. Whistleblower laws also make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who state concerns about dishonest, illegal, or fraudulent practices in the workplace.

Retaliation is not limited to the act of terminating an employee. Other forms of retaliation may include changes in hours or job assignments, denial of promotions, reduction in salary, and unjustified negative evaluations. Hostility in the workplace may also be a form of retaliation. If one believes they are experiencing retaliation at work, they should consult an experienced lawyer to help determine if an employer’s actions are illegal.

Workplace Discrimination Against Disabled Persons Continues to Exist

The EEOC received more than 24,000 disability discrimination charges in 2019. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities.

Disability discrimination can surface in many ways, including the following:

  • Terminating workers for disability-related absences.
  • Workplaces that maintain physical barriers, making it impossible for persons in wheelchairs to gain access.
  • Parking lots that lack handicapped-accessible parking spaces.
  • Employers who refuse to assign disabled employees workspaces on the ground floor in buildings that lack elevators.
  • Colleagues who harass disabled workers with impunity.

Disabilities may include either physical or mental impairments that limit life activities. The law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s disability if the accommodations would not impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. However, undue hardship is typically defined in terms of monetary costs. During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when many businesses are experiencing drops in income, it may be likely that more employers will refuse to make accommodations, citing financial constraints.

Is Race Discrimination a Top Claim?

The EEOC received 23,976 race discrimination charges in 2019. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, which includes physical characteristics, as well as features associated with a particular race. Examples of discrimination include not only unfair practices regarding hiring, promoting, compensating, and firing employees, but also tolerating racial jokes, ethnic slurs, and offensive comments on the job that may create a hostile work environment. Discrimination based on race may also surface in the hiring process.

Sexual Harassment Remains a Problem

In 2019, the EEOC received 23,532 complaints of discrimination on the basis of sex, with 7,514 of those classified as sexual harassment charges. More than 80 percent of the sexual harassment claims were filed by women.

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as unwanted behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance, creating a hostile work environment and impacting employment decisions. This may include lewd or humiliating remarks, sexually offensive jokes as well as sexual assault or demands for sexual favors. While there has been a decrease in work-related sexual assaults and threats in exchange for sex during the past 30 years, recent studies indicate that there has been an increase in other types of sexual harassment.

Employees who are victims of sexual harassment can benefit from seeking qualified legal representation. While cases are different and results are not guaranteed, successful sexual harassment claims can send a strong message to employers about the seriousness of enabling a hostile work environment.

How Many EEOC Claims are Successful?

Discrimination in the workplace is still widespread, and the number of claims filed continues to be steady. However, it is important to note that in 2019, 70 percent of the charges filed to the EEOC were discarded because the agency ruled that they lacked reasonable cause. Out of those that were processed, only a small percentage resulted in significant monetary settlements.

When an individual files a workplace discrimination charge with the EEOC, the case is assigned a priority. The charge may be given a low priority if the worker failed to provide adequate evidence to prove the allegation. The low percentage of charges that result in settlement attests to the need to seek assistance from a skilled lawyer who can provide guidance on collecting and presenting evidence to support a successful workplace discrimination claim. Workers may pursue legal action on the state level as well as on the federal level.

How Can Employers Prevent Discrimination and Retaliation?

There are a number of steps that employers can take to protect their employees from discrimination and retaliation, including the following:

  • Institute a culture of respect and accountability, starting at the very top levels of management.
  • Review hiring, compensation, promotion, and termination practices to uncover instances of discrimination.
  • Train managers and employees to recognize discrimination and report it.
  • Draft anti-retaliation policies that explain what is and is not allowed when disciplining or terminating workers.
  • Allow workers to submit complaints anonymously.

Recent studies suggest that unequal distribution of power within corporate structures may foster a workplace culture of discrimination. Since workplace culture is shaped by the worst behavior that a CEO is willing to tolerate, it is important for change to begin at the top. Changing workplace culture is a long but necessary process in the effort to eradicate discrimination on the job. If a worker is being discriminated or sexually harassed, it is important for them to hire a lawyer in order to protect their rights.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. are Exclusively Focused on Helping Discriminated and Harassed Workers

Workplace discrimination continues to be a national problem, as proven by the many thousands of charges filed with the EEOC each year. If you are employee facing on-the-job discrimination, you may feel that quitting is your only option. Before taking that step, reach out to our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. For a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 215-569-1999. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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