You deserve a fair and equal work environment free of discrimination. Unfortunately, some employers trample on employees’ legal rights by refusing to investigate unlawful discrimination in the workplace and choosing instead to terminate the victims. Nashville workplace discrimination lawyer Curt Masker has a proven track record of success in fighting for victims of discrimination that has resulted in highly satisfied clients.
Discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by federal and Tennessee law. Under these employment laws, an employer is prohibited from making adverse employment decisions based on a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics in Tennessee include:
- Age (40 and up)
- Sex (including Unequal Pay)
- Sexual orientation/Gender identity
- National origin
- Genetic information
Employees in Tennessee are protected against workplace discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA). Nashville-based workplace discrimination lawyer Curt Masker files discrimination complaints on behalf of Tennessee workers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and then federal court, for claims under both Title VII and the THRA.Workplace Discrimination Protections under Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a federal anti-discrimination law that applies to employees across the U.S.
- Prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin
- Only applies to employers with 15 or more employees
- Requires a charge be filed with the EEOC prior to bringing suit in court
- 300 day statute of limitation (for Tennessee charges)
- Makes unlawful severe or pervasive workplace harassment (does not apply to simple teasing or offhand remarks)
- Punitive and compensatory damages are capped
The Tennessee Human Rights Act is Tennessee’s primary anti-discrimination in employment law that prohibits workplace discrimination.
- Prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, creed, religion, and disability
- Generally construed identically with Title VII
- Applies to employers with 8 or more employees in Tennessee
- Filing a discrimination complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission is optional (but claims must be filed in court within one year)
- Punitive damages are not available
- Damages for emotional pain and suffering are capped
If you are currently experiencing discrimination at work, you are probably worried about losing your job if you report the mistreatment to human resources. While these concerns are real and legitimate, federal and state laws prohibit retaliation against an employee who reports workplace discrimination, including filing a charge with the EEOC, reporting discrimination to human resources, or bringing a lawsuit against the company. As such, you cannot be legally fired, demoted, or treated poorly for complaining about the discrimination.Employer Duty To Notify Employees of Their Workplace Rights
Employers who are covered by federal employment laws are required to post notice of anti-discrimination laws in the form of the “EEO is the Law” poster. This mandatory poster is prepared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and must be placed in a conspicuous location where notices are customarily posted. Employers must also keep all payroll records for a minimum of three years and all wage calculation methods for at least two years.Proving a Workplace Discrimination Claim in Tennessee
Most workplace discrimination cases involve an employee being wrongfully terminated and replaced by an individual outside the protected class, or being treated less favorably because of his or her protected characteristic.
To raise a presumption of discrimination, an employee must show he or she:
- (1) is a member of a protected class;
- (2) was qualified for the position;
- (3) suffered an adverse employment action [see examples below]; and
- (4) was replaced by an individual outside the protected class or treated less favorably than a similarly-situated person outside the protected class.
Together, these four elements are called a prima facie case of discrimination.
Once an employee establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions (e.g., bad performance, poor behavior, absenteeism, etc.). Once the employer does so, the employee must show the employer’s reason is pretext for discrimination. Pretext is just a fancy way of saying the employer’s stated reason is fake in an attempt to cover-up discrimination.
Usually, the first two elements of a prima facie case are easily established while the third and fourth elements are contested. Below is a breakdown of each prima facie element that must be proven.
1. Member of Protected Class
The first element of a discrimination case requires you to show that you are a member of a legally protected class. This varies depending on the circumstances. In general, if your claim is based on one of the protected categories listed above, then you can easily establish this first element.
2. Qualified for the Position
This element simply asks, did you meet the qualifications for the position? Considerations may include experience, education, licensure, etc. Typically if you are already in the position, and have been successfully performing your duties for a period of time, this second element of a discrimination claim will be established.
3. Adverse Employment Action
Third, you must show that you were harmed by your employer as a result of the workplace discrimination. Below are common examples of adverse employment actions:
- pay cut (or being denied a pay raise)
- eliminating or reducing job responsibilities
- being passed over for promotion
- others actions that affects the terms and conditions of your employment.
Other types of adverse employment actions exist but the general idea is that the action must be more than a trivial harm. For example, a lateral transfer is probably not adverse enough to meet this standard.
4. Replaced By Individual Outside Protected Class or Treated Less Favorably than Similarly Situated Non-Member
The fourth element of a discrimination claim requires showing that you were replaced by someone outside of the protected class. For example, in an age employment discrimination claim, you can establish this element by showing you were replaced by someone at least 10 years younger than you. If you were not replaced, then you must show that you were treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals outside of your protected class.
You and the non-class members (called comparators) must be similarly situated in all relevant respects. Generally relevant factors include whether you and the comparator(s):
- (a) engaged in the same conduct;
- (b) dealt with the same supervisor; and
- (c) were subject to the same standards.
These factors are not exhaustive and the relevancy of a particular factor can vary depending on the specific facts of your case. For instance, in some circumstances, you and a comparator need not have had the same supervisor.
Employment law cases are difficult and you need to know your legal rights. If you have suffered from unlawful discrimination, contact a Nashville workplace discrimination lawyer at the number above or online.How Much Money is a Workplace Discrimination Case Worth?
The value of a given workplace discrimination case varies significantly based on many factors, including the legal claims available, the severity of the discrimination, how much money you have lost in earnings and benefits, the type and quality of evidence, whether or not you reported the discrimination, and if the harasser or company has discriminated against workers in the past.
That said, there are four general categories of damages in employment discrimination cases:
- Economic Damages: Economic damages include back pay and front pay. Back pay includes the wages, salary, and benefits you lost as a result of the discrimination. This amount is calculated from the date of your termination to when your case is decided by a jury. Front pay is like back pay except it anticipates your lost earnings and benefits into the future due to the employer’s unlawful discrimination. This amount is calculated from the date of judgment until a time period determined by a judge or jury.
- Emotional Pain and Suffering Damages*: The law also permits damages that compensate you for the emotional distress caused by the workplace discrimination. Depression, anxiety, and other medical issues occur all too often due to employer misconduct. You may also recoup medical expenses incurred as a result of the unlawful discrimination.
- Punitive Damages*: Punitive damages are available in cases involving intentional workplace discrimination. These damages are meant to punish the employer and deter similar unlawful conduct in the future.
- Attorney’s Fees and Costs: If you go to trial and win your discrimination case, you may also receive your attorney’s fees and costs, which often totals well into six figures.
*Compensatory and punitive damages in employment discrimination cases are subject to a combined monetary cap under federal law. Compensatory damages are also capped under Tennessee law (punitive damages are not available in employment law cases in Tennessee). The capped amount is based on the size of the employer as follows:
- 8-14 employees ($25,000)
- 15-100 employees ($50,000)
- 101-200 employees ($100,000)
- 201-500 employees ($200,000)
- 501 or more employees ($300,000)
These limits do not apply to backpay, interest on backpay, front pay, or any equitable relief.Statute of Limitations for Discrimination Claims in Tennessee
Workplace discrimination claims have strict deadlines called statute of limitations. If you miss this deadline then you will be barred from going to court for your employment claims. If you may have claims do not wait, contact a workplace discrimination lawyer right away to know your deadlines.
To preserve your federal law workplace discrimination claims in Tennessee, you must file a charge of discrimination (EEOC Form 5) with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the date you were discriminated against. Just calling the EEOC and talking to someone does not constitute filing and you risk missing the window to file your employment law claims.
The only way to preserve your state law workplace discrimination claims in Tennessee is to file suit. You may choose to file a discrimination complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) within 180 days of the date you were discriminated against, but filing with the THRC does not toll (pause) the one-year statute of limitations. If you file a civil lawsuit in Chancery or Circuit court, then pursuant to state law, THRC must administratively close its investigation of your complaint. You must bring your state law employment claim within one-year of the date you were discriminated against (or terminated).
For cases involving state and federal workplace discrimination claims, your discrimination lawyer must file with the EEOC for the federal claims while being mindful of the one-year deadline for the state claims. If the investigation has not concluded and the state deadline is approaching, your attorney will likely request that the Right to Sue letter be issued (no earlier than 60 or 180 days have passed since you submitted your charge depending on the claim).Know Your Employment Law Rights – Contact Us Today
It's time to fight back. You deserve to be fairly compensated for the workplace discrimination you have endured. Learn your legal rights by contacting Nashville-based discrimination attorney Curt Masker at the number above or online for your Free Attorney Consultation.