Some of the most important employee laws established in the U.S. are those that prevent discrimination in hiring, promotion, demotion and firing. If you are fired for a discriminatory reason, then you would need to file a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against your employer to recover your lost wages, get your job back, seek damages or a combination thereof.
The Definition of Discrimination
When it comes to actual employee laws, not all unfairness counts as discrimination. If you’re an at-will employee (and most employees in the U.S. are), your boss can fire you for many reasons, including not liking your personality or the way you dress, for example. But federal law dictates that it is illegal to fire employees based on their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (for workers over 40), disability, genetic information or citizenship status. Some states offer protection for additional categories such as sexual orientation. You should check with an employment attorney in your area to determine what protected classes your state recognizes.
Filing an Employee Lawsuit
As all wrongful termination lawyers know, it can sometimes be difficult to prove discrimination claims. It’s not illegal to fire employees who fall into protected classes; it’s merely illegal to fire employees for falling into those groups. The details vary from case to case, but generally you would need to demonstrate several things in court in order to have a strong wrongful dismissal case: that you fall into a protected class, that you were fired, that you were qualified for the position, that at least one person who is not a part of your protected class was retained by the company, and that it’s more than likely your protected class precipitated the firing.
Proving Discriminatory Motivation
There are several ways you might demonstrate that your employer made the decision to fire you based on discriminatory reasoning. Statements such as “well, women aren’t good workers after they have children” are good pieces of evidence, and you should attempt to document such experiences or have them corroborated by other employees. Statistics that can demonstrate a pattern, such as an employer firing 80% female employees despite having just as many male employees in similar positions, should also be documented. And of course, any written policies that might unfairly exclude certain workers (for a good example, take a look at the recent news about Ruby Tuesday’s job posting seeking only female candidates) are also strong evidence.
Have you had experience dealing with illegal firings? Share your thoughts in the comments.