Workplace Discrimination: Enforcement and Compliance of the Civil Rights Act

<< Page 1: Workplace Discrimination

At the federal level, the EEOC handles discrimination complaints via their local, state, and district offices. Additionally, each state operates some form of employment anti-discrimination entity, which is in place to receive, investigate, and enforce discrimination complaints. In addition, individual municipalities may have a local anti-discrimination bureau to process and resolve discrimination claims within the workplace. The EEOC also prosecutes retaliation against workers by their employers for reporting discriminatory practices in the workplace.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

The federal law, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, mandates equal pay for equal work, regardless of the gender of the employee. Initially, the Act attempted to close the large pay gap faced by women performing similar work as their male counterparts. The Act, however, stipulates the term "equal work", which is not easily ascertained. To pursue a successful claim under the Equal Pay Act, individuals must show:

  • At least one male and one female are employed in the same workplace
  • The male and female are performing the same or equal work
  • One of the parties is receiving unequal pay

Am I Covered by the Equal Pay Act?

The Equal Pay Act covers all employees covered by the Fair Labors Standards Act, which essentially pertains to all employees across the board. The exempted workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, such as executives, professionals, and experts, are covered by the Equal Pay Act.

Stipulations Provided by the Equal Pay Act

Per precedent, the courts continually acknowledge jobs are not exactly the same, but jobs requiring equal qualifications, skill, effort, and responsibility in a similar environment are deemed equal work and deserving of equal pay. The determination of equal work depends solely on job function rather than job title.

Assessing Legal Options under the Equal Pay Act

In discriminatory employment practices, employees may file suit under the Equal Pay Act, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, there are different statute of limitations on filing claims, and in all cases, claims under the Equal Pay Act can be made significantly later than others (two years for statute violation and up to three years after willful violations). However, the potential awards from violations of the Equal Pay Act are limited to back pay, and as a punitive measure for wanton violations, an additional sum of the total amount of back pay, plus legal fees.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADED)

The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) is the preeminent body of law ensuring the legal rights of workers over the age of forty. The age discrimination law provides older workers a wide number of protections, which apply to workers still capable of functioning in the job capacity, but who have suffered a violation against age discrimination law based solely on their age. These laws prevent the illegal practice of forced retirement of employees.

Am I Covered by The Age Discrimination in Employment Act?

Employers with twenty or more employees must adhere to the ADED. Additionally, employees covered by the protections of the ADED include all those over the age of forty. In addition, all local and federal government employees are protected under the provisions of the age discrimination in workplace law. There are some exceptions to the protections granted by the ADED, which commonly include:

  • Provisions for the forced retirement of executives at the age of sixty-five, assuming their retirement pension package is in excess of $44,000 annually
  • Airline employees, including pilots and air traffic controllers
  • Public officials, including law enforcement officers and firefighters
  • Any occupation that can be proven to require a worker under the age of forty for legitimate business reasons

Your Rights under the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act

The main rights offered to workers under the OWBPA are:

  • Making illegal discriminatory benefits policies using age as a criteria
  • Making illegal downsizing practices focusing on older employees

These laws also created another issue in the workplace affecting older workers, which are sometimes referred to as a golden handshake. Essentially, companies offer older workers incentives to retire, which reduces their costly accumulated salary and benefits. This would be illegal; however, employees taking this package must sign a waiver giving up their right to sue under the OWBPA laws.

Employees offered this type of incentive package have twenty-one days to accept the offer, and if presented to a group of employees, they are allowed forty-five days to decide. Additionally, a worker may revoke their initial acceptance of an offer up to seven days after initially agreeing. Additionally, workers can negotiate the terms of these packages, although the success of this is dependent on your individual case.

Your Rights under The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was intended to protect the rights of disabled individuals against disability descrimination. In general, the Act prevents employers from:

  • Requesting medical information from job applicants
  • Operating worksites that contain substantial barriers to the movement of a disabled person
  • Requiring applicants to endure a pre-employment medical exam
  • Discriminating against workers due to any mental or physical disability

Unless it would cause an employer unfeasible strain, employers must make reasonable accommodations to employ disabled individuals.

Am I Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Workplaces with fifteen or more employees are subject to the terms of the disability discrimination act 1995. This includes private sector companies and labor organizations, as well as federal, state, and local public entities. Essentially, a disabled person must be able to perform a given job function with some or reasonable accommodation from the employer. The definition of a disabled person, however, leaves some areas in question as of today. Currently, the law defines as disabled individual as:

  • Someone with psychological or physical impairment inhibiting major life activity
  • Someone with a history of documented impairment
  • Someone who currently has that impairment to date

Stipulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA attempts to prevent employee discrimination against disabled individuals in a number of specific employment scenarios, beginning with hiring. Employers are not allowed to inquire about an individual's current or past medical status.

Some other protections afforded to disabled workers include their right to equal insurance benefits as those received by non-disabled workers. Employers are also not allowed to segregate or differentiate disabled workers in any way from their non-disabled workers.

Reasonable Accommodations" and Occupational Exemptions

The law states employers must provide disabled workers reasonable accommodations to perform their job function. Debate exists over what is reasonable and what is not. Reasonable accommodation generally entails restructuring job schedules, providing hearing or visual assistance, lowering out of reach furniture and tools, and allowing for prolonged leaves due to medical care.

On the contrary, employers can reject hiring a disabled individual due to undue hardship. Undue hardship, which is vaguer than reasonable accommodations, considers mostly the financial costs associated with making a jobsite or job function easily accessible to handicapped individuals. The courts, however, will not support an undue hardship claim solely based on financial costs, and for this reason, many employers find it difficult to support undue hardship claims that a disabled individuals contests.

Enforcing Your Rights under the ADA

Complaints of violations of your rights under the ADA should be filed with the EEOC. Most states and some large municipal areas also have branches of their public government that review claims from disabled individuals regarding violations of their rights as well.

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