If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation and other relief, such as the restoration of your job with seniority, restoration of job benefits, and the costs of a job search.
A Nashville workplace discrimination attorney from the Employment and Consumer Law Group can help you determine whether you have been the victim of discrimination and have a viable legal claim to financial compensation and other relief.
Contact us today by phone or online to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss how we can help you.
Employers’ Duty to Protect Against Discrimination
Employers typically may be held liable for workplace discrimination when the discrimination is done by a manager or supervisor. If the discrimination comes from “regular” employees, the employer can be liable if they knew or should have known about the discrimination and failed to do anything about it.
Thus, employers have a proactive duty to prevent discrimination by their workers and to respond to evidence that workers are engaging in discrimination against their co-workers. Generally speaking, employers should take the following actions to protect against discrimination:
- Provide notice of anti-discrimination laws – Employers who are subject to federal anti-discrimination laws are required to post notice of state and federal anti-discrimination laws in a conspicuous place in the workplace (such as a break room) and to make such notices available to employees electronically. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies provide posters that outline the anti-discrimination laws.
- Maintain employment and payroll records – Employers may also be required to maintain employment and payroll records, which can be critical to resolving claims of discrimination in hiring or pay.
- Adopt anti-discrimination policies – Employers should also adopt an explicit anti-discrimination policy and should educate their employers on the policy, including encouraging employees to take proactive steps if they witness or are subjected to discrimination. This includes speaking up and informing the employer of such discrimination.
- Adopt a grievance procedure to handle discrimination claims – Employers should adopt a formal procedure to handle employee claims of discrimination, including how to investigate the procedure and what actions, if any, to take against workers accused of having engaged in discrimination during the investigation.
Tennessee Workplace Discrimination Laws
In Tennessee, workplace discrimination is prohibited under several state laws, most notably the Tennessee Human Rights Act and the Tennessee Disability Act. Workplace discrimination is also prohibited under federal law when the employer is subjected to federal laws (typically if the employer is located in multiple states, is engaged in interstate commerce, has more than 15 employees, or engages in business with the federal government). The primary federal law regarding workplace discrimination is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
These state and federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination in the following ways:
- Tennessee Human Rights Act – The THRA covers Tennessee employers with at least eight employees. It prohibits employers from failing or refusing to hire or discharge any person, or otherwise discriminate against any person, with respect to compensation or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on the person’s membership in a protected class. Employers are also prohibited from limiting, segregating, or classifying employees or applicants in any way that would tend to deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely affect their employment status. Protected classes recognized under Tennessee law include:
- National origin or ancestry
- Religion or creed
- Sex or gender (including relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and sex/gender related medical conditions)
- Disability, whether physical, mental, or visual
- Age (40 and older)
- Veteran status
- Tennessee Disability Act – The TDA prohibits employers from engaging in discrimination in hiring, firing, and terms and conditions of employment based solely on an employee’s or applicant’s physical, mental, or visual disability. However, an employer is entitled to make hiring, firing, or other employment decisions based on an employee’s or applicant’s disability if that disability would, even with reasonable accommodation, prevent the employee or applicant from performing the duties of the position or otherwise impair their performance.
Under the TDA, whoever brings a claim must show that they have a disability and are able to perform the essential functions of their job with or without reasonable accommodation and have suffered some adverse employment action.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – Like the THRA, Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination against any employee who is a member of a protected class under federal law. The protected classes recognized by federal law include:
- National origin
- Religion or creed
- Sex or gender (including relating to pregnancy, childbirth, sex/gender-related medical conditions)
- Physical or mental disability
- Age (40 or older)
- Citizenship status
- Genetic information
What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
In addition to prohibiting discrimination, state and federal laws also prohibit employers from creating or permitting a “hostile work environment.” It is important to note that a hostile work environment does not mean rude supervisors or co-workers, a stressful or unpleasant work environment, or a lack of privileges, benefits, or other perks.
Just because the workplace is not friendly to or supportive of employees does not mean that it is a hostile work environment. Instead, a hostile work environment is an environment where the acts or behavior of managers, supervisors, or co-workers make it unreasonably difficult or even impossible for you to do your job.
In determining whether a hostile work environment existed, courts look at whether the acts or behavior of managers or co-workers affected a “term, condition, or privilege of employer” in a manner that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the condition of … employment and create an abusive working environment.”
The elements of a hostile work environment include:
- The acts or behavior must discriminate against a protected class.
- The acts or behavior must be pervasive and long-lasting.
- The acts or behavior are not addressed by the employer once brought to its attention or continue afterwards.
- The acts or behavior must seriously disrupt the employee’s ability to work or alter the conditions of employment (such as preventing the employee’s career progression).
Compensation in a Discrimination Lawsuit
If you are subjected to workplace discrimination, the compensation you may be entitled to in a lawsuit will depend on the kinds of losses you have suffered as a result of the discrimination. Compensation is generally intended to put you in the same place you were before the discrimination.
Common kinds of compensation you may receive in a discrimination lawsuit include:
- Back pay, with interest
- Front pay, which is compensation for the pay you’ve lost until you obtain employment of equal or greater pay to your prior job
- Lost employment benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time, sick leave, and pension benefits
- Reinstatement to your old position, with accrued seniority
- Reasonable accommodation for any disabilities
- Expenses of a new job search
- Punitive damages
What to Do If You Suffer Discrimination at Work
If you suffer from discrimination at work, your first step could be to speak with the offending employee and ask them to stop their discriminatory behavior. In some cases, the offending employee may not have realized the discriminatory nature of their behavior.
If that does not stop the discrimination or makes it worse, your next step should be to speak to a supervisor or your employer’s human resources department to make a formal complaint of discrimination.
At this point, you may also want to consider retaining the assistance of a Nashville workplace discrimination attorney. An experienced employment attorney will be able to advise you of your rights in the event that you are subjected to retaliation after you make a formal complaint of discrimination.
If your employer does not stop the discriminatory behavior, your next step is to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC). Depending on the circumstances of your complaint, the EEOC or THRC may decide to launch their own investigation and enforcement action against your employer.
Otherwise, those agencies will provide you with a “right to sue” letter, which authorizes you to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit. At that point, you may file suit to obtain compensation for any damages you may have suffered as a result of the discrimination, including lost pay or reinstatement to a position lost due to discriminatory acts.
How Our Nashville Workplace Discrimination Lawyers Can Help
If you believe you are being subjected to discrimination in your workplace, you need to contact an experienced Nashville workplace discrimination attorney. The dedicated and knowledgeable legal team of the Employment and Consumer Law Group can help you pursue your discrimination claim with your employer.
If that does not effectively stop the behavior, we can help you pursue a formal claim with the EEOC or THRC, and, if necessary, file a lawsuit on your behalf to help you obtain financial compensation or reinstatement of your position or other employment benefits that were taken away from you due to the discrimination.
If you are suffering from the effects of workplace discrimination, contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about your legal rights.