Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The 1990s: A Decade of Discrimination Complaints

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The 1990s: A Decade of Discrimination Complaints

Article excerpt

Discrimination complaints filed by employees against employers are a fact of life.

Not only are terminated employees claiming discrimination, but allegations of discrimination can arise when current employees do not receive promotions, pay raises or attractive job assignments. Even job ap plicants, who have no employment relation with an employer, can claim they were not hired because of discriminatory reasons.

Discrimination complaints are likely to be the bumper crop of the 1990s. The number of public awareness laws protecting employees against discrimination are increasing. The Civil Rights Actor 1964 and state laws modeled after it are now only a part of the legal minefield employers face.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act now protects employees over 40 years of age from discrimination on the basis of age. Every state has its own laws protecting employees against some unlikely types of discrimination.

In 1988, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a listing of state laws prohibiting discrimination which included 27 different protected categories. The list included state laws protecting employees against discrimination based on political affiliation (Washington, D.C., Kentucky, South Carolina and Vermont), public assistance (Mississippi and North Dakota), expunged juvenile record (Ohio and Oregon), weight (Michigan) and personal appearance (Washington, D.C.).

Sexual orientation, matriculation, conviction record, ancestry and marital status are just a few of the other protected categories.

Congress's aggressive expansion of civil rights protections is continuing unabated. The Americans With Disabilities Act, providing remedies for discrimination against physically impaired persons, went into effect last month. The Senate Committee which reviewed the Americans With Disabilities Act estimated that 40 million workers will be covered by the law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 for the first time puts the burden on employers to justify disproportionate percentages of certain types of employees in their work force. Other legislation in the pipeline would require employers to grant extended unpaid maternity/paternity leave and provide mandated health insurance benefits.

Once civil rights legislation is interpreted by courts, further expansion of employee rights often follow. For instance, someone under 40 years of age can be protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by proving an employer took action before the person turned 40 to avoid penalties under the law.

A white employee can be entitled to the protections of a black employee if he or she believes an employer's action was motivated by the employee's black spouse or fiancee.

Court decisions, such as a recent D.C. Court of Appeals decision recognizing an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine in the District of Columbia for the first time, will continue to erode employers' discretion in personnel matters.

Several other factors indicate that the number of discrimination complaints will significantly increase in the 1990s. Discrimination complaints are an attractive legal remedy for laidoff employees unable to find other jobs.

Sexual discrimination complaints have increased in the wake of Anita Hill's allegations against Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The EEOC has approved the use of "testers." Testers apply for employment with no intention of taking a job but only for the purpose of finding employers who refuse to hire them on an impermissible basis and then file discrimination complaints.

Women's rights, and increased awareness of those rights, are likely to be an important topic of debate during upcoming political campaigns and every time the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case affecting abortion rights.

There is no guarantee against questionable lawsuits, but there are things employers should do to pre-empt and/or win discrimination lawsuits. …

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