Discrimination occurs when an employee in a protected class (i.e., race, gender, sex, disability, whistleblower, etc.) is wrongfully treated. Discrimination may occur between coworkers at work, an employee and their supervisor, or a potential employee and a potential employer. However, when a coworker (that is not a supervisor) discriminates against another coworker, this is not enough to bring an action against your employer. In order to bring an action against your employer the employee discriminated against must have complained to their employer (supervisor, manager, human resources) regarding the discrimination and the employer failed to investigate or continued to allow the discriminatory actions.
A potential employee that is discriminated against is a person who applies for a position at an employer and does not get the position based on the potential employee's protected class. To bring a cause of action against an employer, a potential employee must show that the employer's reason for not hiring the person is because of their protected class. This must be shown by some type of communication (i.e., email, text, etc.). The potential employee must show that the employer's basis for not hiring the person was for discriminatory reasons.
Retaliation occurs when an employee makes a complaint regarding discrimination, or helps another employee assert a complaint of discrimination, and the employer retaliates against the employee for making a complaint (i.e., firing the employee, demoting the employee, denying a promotion, decreasing pay, disciplining the employee, etc.). This is also known as a "whistleblower," and retaliation by an employer against a whistleblower is protected by state and federal laws. A whistleblower is also protected from retaliation for reporting an employer for illegal practices.
Examples of unfair treatment to an employee or potential employee are:
- overlooked for deserved promotions
- denial of transfers
- denial or change in benefits
- being unfairly demoted or terminated
- denied employment based on your protected class
What employers are subject to the anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws?
Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws under the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") (e.g., race, color, religion, sex, etc.). Employers with 8 or more employees are subject to Washington State anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws (e.g., Washington State Law Against Discrimination "WLAD"). Discrimination under federal law for age discrimination in the workplace falls under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and requires the employer to have at least 20 employees.
All federal agencies and employment agencies (e.g., temporary staffing agencies or recruitment company) are subject to the federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws no matter how many employees there are.
Labor unions and joint apprenticeship committees are subject to the federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws for Title VII discrimination if there are at least 15 members and the ADEA if there are at least 25 members.
At-will employment and nondiscriminatory conduct
Not all actions by an employer are illegal. Washington State is an "at-will" employment state. This means that an employer can terminate employees without cause as long it is for nondiscriminatory reasons. The same at-will rule applies to other adverse actions such as a demotion or mandatory leave.
Examples of workplace actions that are unfortunate, but legal:
- an employer, coworker, or supervisor that is rude to an employee for nondiscriminatory reasons (e.g., the coworker or supervisor does not like you)
- an employer that terminates or demotes an employee for nondiscriminatory reasons (e.g., an employer that terminates or demotes an employee because they are not a "good fit" is not discrimination)
- an employee receives a negative performance review or reprimand for nondiscriminatory reasons (e.g., poor performance, errors, tardiness, absenteeism)
We represent employees whose workplace rights were violated
Our firm handles discrimination and retaliation cases on a regular basis. If you believe your employer has discriminated or retaliated against you and would like to discuss your case further, please contact us.