Are all employers subject to discrimination and harassment laws?
No. Under federal discrimination statutes, an employer generally must employ at least fifteen employees. The same is currently true under Florida law. However, some municipalities have enacted ordinances with lower thresholds.
Are all employees of covered employers protected?
In essence, yes. There are a multitude of protected categories under the various statutes and ordinances that form the body of employment discrimination law. The most common are race, color, gender (including pregnancy), age, disability, national origin, religion and marital status. In some localities, other categories, such as sexual preference, have been recognized as protected. The law likewise protects those who are not members of these categories from “reverse discrimination.”
What discriminatory acts are prohibited by law?
Unlawful discrimination can take many forms. The most overt are failure to hire, disparate pay practices, failure to promote, harassment and termination. More subtle forms can also occur, at times resulting in a forced resignation or “constructive discharge.” Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who oppose unlawful discrimination or who participate in the investigation of such claims.
When does harassment become actionable?
Employees often mistakenly presume that all forms of harassment are unlawful. However, the law only prohibits forms of harassment that relate to a protected status (i.e. sexual harassment, racial harassment). The law also requires a showing that the harassment is severe or pervasive. Employees must also demonstrate generally that the harassment either culminated in a “tangible detriment” (i.e. discharge) or that the employer failed to take reasonable measures to prevent and/or remedy the harassment.
How do I proceed with a discrimination or harassment claim?
Generally, employees must file a charge with a federal (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), state (Florida Commission on Human Relations) or local agency. At the conclusion of the investigation, employees typically may proceed to court.
What types of damages are available for discrimination and harassment claims?
Employees can typically seek recovery of actual damages (i.e. back pay), compensatory damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages. Attorneys’ fees and costs are also available to prevailing plaintiffs. Employees may also obtain “injunctive relief”, such as reinstatement, in appropriate circumstances.