Introduction to Discrimination
Federal law recognizes certain characteristics of individuals as immutable and therefore, protected against discrimination. Identical to federal statute, Florida law forbids workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Moreover, other types of discrimination that are not particularly immutable, for example, pregnancy, disability, or marital status are also protected classes under both federal and state law. Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee or applicant for employment has been negatively impacted or disproportionately excluded by an employer or by policies implemented by that employer. Unfair practices such as refusing to hire or the deliberate discharge of an individual based on any of these protected characteristics shall be deemed an unlawful employment practice and subject to violations pursuant to federal and state statute.
Can an Employer be liable for Unintentional Discrimination?
The plain and simple answer is yes. Discrimination in the workplace is more common than one might think, as a matter of fact, it has come to a surprise that some employers in particular circumstances do not realize their policies create adverse or disproportionate effects to protected groups. The manner of discrimination by an employer does not need to be intentional or willful, neutral decisions and policies that unduly exclude protected groups have been found to be unlawful and forbidden by law. For example, some older buildings do not have wheelchair accessible ramps for employees that use wheelchairs, this is discriminatory, as federal law requires that employers must provide reasonable accommodations such as wheelchair ramps for disabled individuals.
Types of Discrimination
Race and color discrimination occurs when an individual is being discriminated against based on the pigmentation of their skin, texture of their hair, complexion and tone of their features, and other characteristics associated with race and color. Religious discrimination includes segregation and unfavorable behavior against individuals with certain religious beliefs. In addition, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee who seeks leave for observance of religious holidays or whom wishes to dress in garments for religious purposes. Discrimination based on sex includes negative aspects or decisions in employment that are a direct consequence of an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Lastly, discrimination based on national origin occurs when an employer unfavorably treats an individual based on their ethnic background, citizenship, or accent. It is also unlawful for an employer to discriminate against another based on their immigration status or their inability to speak English fluently, unless the job description requires English to ensure a productive and effective operation of business.
Identical to federal law, Florida recognizes sexual harassment in the workplace as a type of discrimination and therefore, unlawful. Sexual harassment includes inappropriate sexual remarks made by an employer, unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors. Women that become pregnant and individuals that are disabled are to be treated alike or similarly to each other in the workplace. For example, it is unlawful for an employer to assign a strenuous workload that is unfit for an individual that may not be able to perform that amount of work due to a disability, or for women who are in their late stages of pregnancy. Additionally, disability leave and unpaid leave for pregnant employees must be provided by the employer at times requested and needed by the employee.
What is Required to Prove a Workplace Discrimination Case?
Since there are various theories of workplace discrimination claims, each claim is unique in that there are slightly different sets of elements to prove for each. The most common claims are as follows: In order to display a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge, a plaintiff must make a showing that the prospective position was ultimately filled by someone not a member of a particular protected class.
In failure to hire cases, there must be a clear showing that:
(1) a plaintiff belongs to a minority group;
(2) plaintiff applied for and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants;
(3) plaintiff was rejected despite of her qualifications;
(4) the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from individuals of plaintiff’s qualifications.
In failure to promote cases based on discrimination, a plaintiff must establish that
(1) she was a member of a protected group;
(2) was qualified for the promotion;
(3) had a reasonable expectation of being promoted under the employer’s ongoing competitive promotion system. Of course, a plaintiff must make a showing that she applied for and was subsequently denied a promotion.
Filing a Claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also known as the EEOC, is a government agency responsible for enforcing Federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on an individuals’ age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or pregnancy. In order to properly commence a discrimination suit asserting claims under Title VII, you must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and subsequently receive a Right to Sue letter, for which you will then have 90 days to file suit in Federal District Court.