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Understanding the Federal Employment Discrimination Laws

Most people will spend a significant portion of their lives at work. Many workers enjoy a friendly work environment where they are treated with respect, given the opportunity to grow in their careers, and generally enjoy their work lives.

This is not always the case. Sometimes workers are treated poorly by their supervisors and co-workers.

However, even though it doesn’t make it right, there’s a big difference between disrespect and actionable discrimination.

Answers to Common Federal Employment Discrimination Questions

1. Which Classes of People are Protected Under Federal Employment Discrimination Law?

To have an employment discrimination claim under federal law, a worker must be part of a “protected class.” The following are protected classes under federal discrimination laws:

  • Race (protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act);
  • Color (protected by Title VII);
  • Sex (protected by Title VII);
  • Religion (protected by Title VII);
  • National Origin (protected by Title VII);
  • Age (protected by Age Discrimination in Employment Act); and
  • Disability (protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, and the Rehabilitation Act).

2. Sexual Orientation Isn’t a Protected Class?

This may come as a shock to most people, especially after the United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, but no, sexual orientation is not a protected class. The ability to protect this class lies solely with the legislature.

That being said, some courts have actually found such claims actionable, not for sexual orientation, but rather a sex/gender discrimination for failure to conform to “gender stereotypes.”

3. What Sort of Discriminatory Action Allows for a Claim?

Generally speaking, an adverse employment action based upon your membership in a protected class can provide a basis for an employment discrimination case.

For example, if you get fired for having dark skin or for being a woman, that would have a basis for a claim. In addition, not being hired or being hired, but at a lower compensation rate, because of your protected status, can also give you a claim. Employers are also prohibited from having policies or procedures that have a disparate impact on a protected class, such as a test that effectively weeds out minorities.

These are just a handful of examples. A New Orleans employment discrimination lawyer will be in the best position to evaluate your potential claim and let you know the merits of your case.

4. Where Should You Begin with a Federal Employment Discrimination Claim?

Though you certainly don’t have to, your first order of business in any employment discrimination case should be to hire an employment lawyer. The laws are incredibly complex and you will be better served with an employment attorney guiding you through the process.

Regardless of whether you decide to be represented, most employment discrimination claims (though there are limited exceptions) begin with filing a Charge of Discrimination before the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and giving the government time to investigate it. This administrative process must be completed before you can file a lawsuit in court.

5. What Damages Are Recoverable in a Federal Employment Discrimination Case?

Plaintiffs in federal employment discrimination cases can recover a wide range of damages, such as:

  • Compensatory Damages: damages for things like job search expenses, medical expenses, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. These damages vary by the size of the employer but are capped at $300,000.
  • Punitive Damages: damages designed to punish employers for malicious and especially reckless behavior.
  • Lost Wages: damages for wages lost between the time of the adverse employment action and trial (back pay) and lost earnings going forward (front pay).
  • Fees and Costs: plaintiffs may also be able to recover their attorneys’ fees, expert costs, and court costs.

Call a New Orleans Employment Discrimination Lawyer

If you’ve been mistreated at work because of being in a protected class, you may have a claim under federal law. Call (504) 564-7342 today to discuss your potential employment case with a Louisiana business litigation attorney. The Mahone Firm is here to help.


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