First used about women, the “glass ceiling” has become a metaphor comparing the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in the workplace to a glass ceiling through which they can see but cannot physically break. The first usage of the term goes back several decades. It was explicitly used to describe the invisible barrier that kept women from climbing the corporate ladder, preventing them from obtaining the same positions and high-paying jobs as men.
Since its first usage, however, the term has come to symbolize the plight of all people who face employment discrimination due to sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other reason that would cause a business or organization to suppress or marginalize people in the workforce. Those who face a glass ceiling experience limited salaries and advancement opportunities that would otherwise allow them to procure a better life and obtain positions worthy of their merits.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. An employer cannot hold you back from a raise or advancement for any reason that would fall under the definition of employment discrimination.
There are many signs of discrimination and glass ceilings, both obvious and subtle. One indication of employment discrimination is when a person of a protected class has been passed up for a promotion, despite meeting the specific qualifications of the position in question. More obvious is when the situation has remained open or was given to an employee with similar or fewer qualifications.
A discriminatory act regarding a raise will be if a woman gets a smaller raise than a male counterpart who has the same job position and has been with the company for the same amount of time. This includes, of course, any person of a protected class who experiences similar circumstances.
A clear sign of discrimination is when you are moved to another position within the company. You might be forced to do this because the new work or region has a lower salary cap or pays less.
Another warning sign is when you are being excluded from company notifications or meetings that indicate a possible promotion or opportunity. Another sign is when your superior is not giving you the proper resources or time to perform your job according to expectations.
Indirect discrimination is when you have noticed over time that no person who falls within the spectrum of a protected class has been promoted, including you.
Coincidental termination is sometimes a sign of discrimination. If you notice, for instance, that people over the age of 50 years old are consistently being fired for confounding reasons, and you are one of them, it could very well be intentional.
Some situations have no cover; they are apparent. Suppose you are not the only person in the company that fits into the LGBT community, and no one in the company’s LGBT community is being promoted. In that case, you have a good reason to believe that discrimination is the reason.
Another obvious situation would be if your boss directly informs you that you are making too much money and gives you a choice of either taking another position or leaving the company. Conversely, this is not happening to other employees who have similar jobs and make comparable salaries.
What Laws Prevent Glass Ceilings in the Workplace?
As previously mentioned, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against people of a protected class. No company or person responsible may terminate you or hold you back from a promotion for discriminatory reasons.
Pregnant women are protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits creating a glass ceiling for companies employing 15 or more employees.
Older employees are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This restricts a glass ceiling for employees over 40 years old who work in companies with 20 or more employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities who work for companies that employ 15 people or more.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 protects women from receiving less pay than men working in similar positions and wielding the same or equivalent qualifications.
It is important to note that discrimination laws also protect people from retaliatory acts for addressing an issue or complaining about one. These acts could manifest as demotions, transfers, denials of promotion, or even terminations. Speaking up against a possible discriminatory act cannot result in retaliatory action.
How Can You File a Claim When You Have Faced a Glass Ceiling?
You need to file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles discrimination acts under federal law. This has to be done before you file a claim in federal court in most cases. Some charges can be directly filed in federal court. A claim that falls under the Equal Pay Act is an example.
Some states have agencies that work in cooperation with each other. In Pennsylvania, for instance, a discrimination claim can be filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). This agency cooperates with the EEOC by cross-filing your claim at your request.
What Do You Need to Prove When You Have Filed a Claim?
Bear in mind that an employer is going to contest your claim aggressively. This might include trumped-up claims and false evidence. You, therefore, must prove that the employer’s reason for firing you was a pretext for a discriminatory act.
Establishing a pretext to prove your case might include:
- Evidence that you were more qualified than the person who got the promotion.
- People outside your protected class received better treatment.
- You were given inconsistent or varied reasons by your employer that explain why you were passed up.
- Your employer was deviating from the norms of promoting or giving raises.
What Can You Receive if You Win an Employment Discrimination Case?
Outcomes may vary, but the possibilities include:
- Receive back pay.
- Punitive damages.
- Be placed in the position for which you were turned down.
- Attorney and court fees.
- Compensatory damages for emotional distress and medical expenses.
- Employment reinstatement.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C Represent Clients Who Have Experienced a Glass Ceiling at Work
If you were refused equal pay or a promotion because of a glass ceiling in the workplace, call one of our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will help you understand your rights, guide you in choosing the right path, and work hard to bring you the outcome you deserve. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. 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.