Speaking up about workplace discrimination

woman stressed at work, workplace discriminationWhile gathering evidence and documentation is necessary for your workplace discrimination case, the first step is often the hardest for most people to take: say something. If you feel you are being discriminated against for any reason, the most important thing is for you to make it officially known to your employer that you feel this way, in writing. Every company has their specific policies, whether it be filing an official report or speaking with a specific person, so if you aren’t sure consult your employee handbook or ask someone in the human resources department to find out what steps you need to take. If you don’t have an HR department and it isn’t specified in your employee handbook, just start with your immediate supervisor. Send an email, a letter, or a fax, however you choose to do it, make sure you complain in writing and make sure that you make it clear you believe you have been discriminated against due to your protected class status.


Workplace discrimination: Make it official

Now, a lot of people are probably wondering why you should let your employer know you feel this way, after all, its probably not the most comfortable conversation you can imagine. But there are many reasons why it is to your advantage to do this. The first reason is that sometimes talking about an issue can help resolve it. It’s possible your employer didn’t realize they (or another employee) were doing something that either made you feel uncomfortable or made you feel you were being treated differently than other employees. If you talk to them about it, they might be willing to address the issue and make things better without getting lawyers involved. This is certainly the easiest and quickest outcome you can hope for and could lead to you enjoying your job again and moving forward.

However, we all know this isn’t always the case so the second reason it’s important to speak up or file an official report is to create a paper trail. Once you file your complaint, any adverse action your employer takes against you after that may count as retaliation, which is illegal. According to the EEOC, Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Whether it be termination, a demotion, discipline, or even a significant schedule change, it is illegal for them to treat you differently simply because you have raised a complaint. And if these actions do occur, they are great evidence for a discrimination and/or relation lawsuit.

One last thing to consider is that raising a complaint can also help you keep your job longer. Most HR representatives know the laws regarding retaliation, so it is less likely your boss’s boss will approve termination or other adverse employment actions against you once you raise a good-faith complaint. While termination may still be inevitable, this could help bring attention to illegal conduct and provide you and others interested in ensuring an equal opportunity workplace necessary time to gather more evidence.


How do I prove retaliation in workplace discrimination cases?

Once you file your complaint — a protected activity — your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you because of it. However, if you do something wrong, they are still allowed to address that behavior how they normally would (i.e. cutting your pay for being late). “In a case alleging that an employer took a materially adverse action because of protected activity, legal proof of retaliation requires evidence that:

  • An individual engaged in prior protected activity
  • The employer took a materially adverse action
  • Retaliation caused the employer’s action.” (EEOC website)

The last one isn’t easy to prove, but it’s one more reason why you want to make your complaint official, to show a timeline of events. If you are now being punished for something that you and other employees have done in the past without consequence, that can help prove retaliation by helping to show that you are being treated differently than similarly situated others have been treated in the past.


Gathering other evidence for your case

Never forget that the best time to gather evidence on workplace discrimination is while you are still employed. If you happen to get terminated, you still have the right to obtain your employee files (See our previous blog post: You have a right to your personnel files) but that won’t include everything, just official documents like performance reviews, official discipline, or other official actions. So, in addition to filing an official complaint, remember to save anything that could be used to show how you are being treated or patterns in your employer’s behavior. One easy thing to do (so long as you do not violate any company policy) is to blind copy (BCC) your personal email address. This is a great way to have backup copies of any important emails that tend to show discriminations because typically you won’t be able to access your work email account after you are terminated. You can also just forward emails as well. And don’t just keep copies of emails that might show discrimination but also ones where your employer praises you, or ones where other employees thank you for doing something. These can help prove you were a good employee if they suddenly start giving you bad performance reviews or otherwise try to falsely claim that you were a bad employee before you started complaining about discriminations. And if your supervisor gives you cards or notes with praise, save those too. You never know what could end up helping prove your case.


Who can help you fight workplace discrimination?

If you ever feel you are being discriminated against at your job, it’s important to speak to someone as soon as possible. Very often you must file an official complaint before your employer can be made liable and there are important deadlines to filing claims with state or federal agencies. Finding the right civil rights attorney is key. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many workplace discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.


Additional resources on workplace discrimination:

Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issueshttps://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/retaliation-qa.cfm.

Discrimination, Harassment, & Mistreatment, https://cdle.colorado.gov/wage-and-hour-law/termination/discrimination-harassment-mistreatment

Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

Pregnancy and childbirth are a wonderful time in a woman’s life. From the first moment she discovers she’s pregnant until she takes home a newborn, she has much to do. One of the things she shouldn’t have to be concerned about is her job and pregnancy discrimination.

Young pregnant woman at a Denver office working.

Many companies have specific policies and procedures in place to accommodate a woman during and after her pregnancy, including accommodations. Most companies implement temporary work re-assignments to accommodate a shorter work schedule. Some companies may hire a temporary worker or two while the worker is out on maternity leave. But not all companies are as progressive and forward-thinking.

There are laws in place to protect pregnant women from being singled out. But gender discrimination or pregnancy discrimination is still a widespread problem nationwide, particularly among low-income women. Many employers will find a way to terminate a woman’s employment due to her pregnancy, despite the fact that it’s highly illegal.

Employment termination is frequently disguised as a layoff, couched in less-than-favorable performance reviews, or a policy violation that wasn’t there before, such as tardiness without a doctor’s note or an increase in a weight-lift requirement. This directly impacts the woman’s family, since the income is cut off when they need it the most. Since pregnancy is exclusive to females, it can also be considered “gender discrimination.” 

Laws against pregnancy discrimination

Both state and federal law prohibit pregnancy discrimination:

  • Pregnancy Accommodations In Colorado, in which an employer is required to offer “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant employee, unless it would cause an undue hardship to the company. It also prevents an employer from taking “adverse actions” against an employee for requesting an accommodation. Requesting a doctor’s note for the requested accommodation is acceptable.
    • An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant employee as they would for an employee experiencing a different disabling health conditions (i.e., broken bones, stroke, recuperation after reparative surgery, etc.)
  • The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination for pregnancy as well as other common reason, such as race, creed, nationality, orientation, age, and other factors. This act requires all employers, regardless of size, comply with the state laws against discrimination.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 specifically prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy/childbirth. Women are to be treated the same as any other employee with a medical condition with respect to benefits, including healthcare, affected in the same way with a condition that temporarily prevents them from working or limits their ability to work.
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits discrimination against disabled workers by companies with more than 15 workers. Conditions related to pregnancy like gestational diabetes and preclampsia are considered disabilities under the law. You can’t be fired, harassed, or denied a promotion because of your pregnancy, nor denied assistance such as extra breaks or being excused from a lifting requirement. FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid guaranteed leave for pregnancy and childbirth.

What Is A “Reasonable Accommodation?”

Like many conditions, pregnancy includes its own symptoms, such as the well-known “morning sickness.” A pregnant woman in the workplace may need some accommodation during pregnancy, including:

  • Job restructuring
  • A temporary modified schedule
  • Increased breaks for restroom, food and water
  • Foot rests
  • Equipment modifications, such as a chair with increased support
  • “Light” duty, including the reduction of weight lift requirements during pregnancy
  • Assistance with manual labor, or a temporary transfer to a less hazardous job

An employer is required to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee to accommodate their needs for assistance. The employer is required to supply reasonable accommodation as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship for the company. For instance, a request for a new chair would be considered “reasonable,” but a request for an entirely new office to be built would not be.

An employee is not required to accept an accommodation she didn’t request, nor can she be compelled to take leave if the employer can provide a reasonable accommodation.

What you can do about pregnancy discrimination

Both state and federal law prohibit an employer from using your pregnancy as a factor in decision making for:

  • The hiring and interview process
  • Wages, benefits and other pay-related decisions
  • Promotions, transfers, demotions or other disciplinary actions
  • Retaliation for taking leaves of absence
  • Disciplinary action, such as suspensions and termination
  • Layoffs and other forms of termination

If you’re a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you do have options. The EEOC offers a list of facts about pregnancy discrimination, and you can file a complaint with the EEOC as well.

It’s important to begin keeping documentation of any attempts at discrimination in the workplace that you notice. For instance, if another individual is being accommodated for a different type of injury, but you aren’t. If something has “changed” at work after notifying your supervisor of your pregnancy, or you’ve heard an increase in inappropriate remarks about your pregnancy, keep a written record. If you are being singled out, this written record will go a long way in proving your case.

If you’ve been terminated, fired, laid off, or had other adverse actions taken against you once you’ve revealed your pregnancy, it’s time to speak with a civil rights attorney who can defend you and protect your rights.

Workplace discrimination is against the law

The US has very strict laws against discrimination, particularly for a pregnant woman. Colorado also offers protections if you believe you’ve been targeted because of your pregnancy. Call The Civil Rights Litigation Group today at (720) 515-6165 for a free consultation. We’re experienced in helping people like you fight back. We can help you file your EEOC complaint, and represent you in court when the time comes.

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