Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination and harassment are against the law.  Employees who work for employers with more than 15 employees (20 in the case of age discrimination) may not be terminated, refused promotions, unfairly criticized or treated differently than their co-works because of gender (sex), race, age, religion, national origin, pregnancy, sexual orientation or disability.  Similarly, for the same reasons an applicant for a job cannot be denied employment for any of these reasons.  Victims of discrimination and harassment suffer financially and emotionally but there is a process for redress against an employer who discriminates.  A note about harassment however.  Harassment has to be severe or pervasive. One or two inappropriate comments that stop after the employee says something do not rise to the level of harassment.

Discrimination Harassment workplace Orlando FloridaThe first step in redressing the issue of discrimination is to examine your employer’s policy and procedure manual or employee handbook. Often it will contain telephone numbers or offices where an employee can complain. We recommend that employee put something in writing via email or ask the person who receives it to sign and date a copy. In some cases, failing to complain may destroy your right to a remedy. An employer will argue that what happened to the employee would have stopped if the employer knew about it and had the chance to fix the problem. To be sure, all employers are not evil and some will take immediate action to fix the problem either by firing the employee who discriminated, demoting him or otherwise making sure it never happens again. The goal at the very early stages is to eliminate the problem.

Discrimination Harassment Business Dean Constantine PapasIf the employer is unwilling to address the problem and it continues (or the employee has been terminated for complaining) the next step it for file a formal charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). This is free but having an attorney as a guide through the process can be helpful but it is not necessary. The EEOC will give a copy of the charge to the employer who in most cases will be given an opportunity to respond to the charge. After the EEOC completes its investigation it will issue a Right to Sue letter to the employee if the matter has not been resolved. After the Right to Sue letter has been delivered, the employee has 90 days to file a lawsuit to protect her right. An attorney is necessary to file a complaint that accurately sets out the facts and the claim.

A lawsuit almost always gets the attention of the employer because if it ignores it a judgment by default can be taken against it. A lawsuit will allow both of the parties to obtain more facts to support their positions by use of depositions or written discovery. If the case goes to trial, the employee has the right to jury and if the employee prevails she is entitled to recover in most cases back pay, front pay, compensatory damages for pain and suffering, interest, costs and attorney’s fees. In some cases, the employee may recover punitive damages if the employer’s behavior is egregious enough.

Many cases settle before they go to trial though a process called mediation. Mediation is simply a formal settlement conference where an independent person selected by the parties helps them arrive at a solution.