There has been much progress in trying to alleviate discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination law has been through many changes over the past 40 years. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was enacted to protect workers from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or gender. In 1967 Congress then adapted the law to also prohibit discrimination based on age. And in 1990, Congress once again made changes to discrimination law which also makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on a disability. Many states have followed suit and also prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Many of the worst discriminatory practices were alleviated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Resistance to enforcement of the laws is what makes it so difficult to eliminate in the workplace. Political resistance to any form of remedial action has made this a very difficult task to undertake and to succeed. Businesses have become much craftier in their employment schemes which make it even more difficult to detect and even harder to correct. Thus the workplace continues to practice unjust and illegal discriminatory practices. Despite the government’s best attempts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace it sadly still exists.
Only about 2% of cases heard on discrimination are won by the plaintiff, the worker who feels they were discriminated against. However, unfair treatment must not be confused with illegal discrimination. Treating an individual differently than others is in violation of discrimination law when the ill treatment is based on the existence of a characteristic which is protected. Actions by a company based on job performance or even something as subjective as personality do not necessarily indicate discriminatory practices.
When it is proven that a company has been engaged in such illegal actions they can be made to pay up to $300,000 in punitive damages. The person who was dealt with unfairly based on one of the protected groups can receive back pay or reinstatement of their previous position or their job if they were fired. They can be compensated for any pain and suffering that was due to the illegal practices of the business.
The Federal law carries a statute of limitations for most forms of discrimination in the workplace. The complaint must be filed within 180 days of the alleged occurrence. The exception occurs for sexual discrimination. Claims for these cases must be filed within 90 days of receiving the “right to sue” letter from the EEO certifying the individual’s right to file a claim for sexual discrimination.