Nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year. Much more are filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act or with the various agencies involved in employer oversight at the state and local level. Many volumes could be (and have been) written on the area of workplace discrimination, but the following are five facts every employer should know about workplace discrimination claims, along with some tips to remain on the right side of the law and out of court.
1. Impact Matters More Than Good Intentions
While the intent to discriminate will sink an employer in court, the opposite is not true. Employers often try to use proof of good intentions as a defense against claims of discrimination, but what matters is whether the employer’s actions result in a discriminatory impact. Such cases are known as “disparate impact” cases and employers can be held liable when a policy is equally enforced against every employee but more severely impacts someone because of their gender, race or religious beliefs. For example, certain dress codes or grooming standards could impact persons who practice certain faiths more than others. In such cases, the employer must have a valid, non-discriminatory reason for the policy at issue.
2. Reasonable Accommodations Suffice
While employers are strongly encouraged to accommodate disabled employees and customers, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require absolute accommodation under any circumstances. Employers are only required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees (and customers) that do not require undue hardship for the small business. This is, of course, subject to interpretation with no hard and fast rule, so consulting an employment lawyer, like Roth Fioretti (rothfioretti.com), specializing in defending ADA claims might be a prudent call in these situations.
3. Not Just Employees
Employers can be liable for discriminatory and harassing actions of customers and clients. Every employer is required to maintain a harassment-free workplace and to take reasonable actions to protect employees and customers from harassment. If for example, a tavern allows drunken customers to harass its staff sexually, the employer can be held liable even if nobody in the company committed the offense. This applies to every category of a discrimination claim.
4. Age Discrimination Works Both Ways
Most employers realize that discriminating against older workers is taboo, but so is mistreating younger workers. While it may be appropriate to require a certain level of experience for a position, it is not appropriate to set a minimum age for adult workers. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers explicitly over 40 from age-based discrimination, but a 25-year-old New Jersey man hired as a bank supervisor successfully brought a claim for discrimination after being reassigned after a boss learned his age.
5. Same Race Discrimination Occurs
Having a supervisor of the same race as an employee does not eliminate the risk of race-based discrimination and is not a valid defense. If the result of an act or policy is discrimination, the race of the perpetrator is legally irrelevant.