If you own or run a business, it’s imperative that you understand both federal and state guidelines regarding equal opportunity employment practices.
Here is a brief overview of the basics:
A: General Parameters:
- Federal and state statutes hold employers (and individual managers under certain circumstances) liable for discriminatory conduct in the workplace against individuals with “protected traits” (i.e., sex, age, race, religion, etc.) in any of the following areas, including: recruitment; hiring; training; compensation; assignments; transfer and promotion; leaves of absence; employment benefits; discipline; termination; layoff and recall; and retirement plans.
- Discriminatory practices under these laws include harassment on account of a protected trait; retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation or opposing discriminatory practices; employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities or performance of persons having a protected trait; and denying employment or other terms of employment to a person because of association with someone having a protected trait.
- These statutes prohibit disparate treatment and disparate impact discrimination.
- Disparate treatment occurs when an employer takes adverse action directly against employees on the basis of their protected trait (i.e., terminating an employee because he is 60 years old and/or disabled and/or a Muslim).
- Disparate impact occurs when an employer utilizes employment practices that are neutral on their face but adversely impact a protected group on account of the protected trait. (For example, an employer who requires all applicants to possess a high school diploma would be discriminatory, if the requirement excluded a disproportionate number of minority employees from employment and the employer was unable to demonstrate a business necessity for the high school diploma requirement).
- Under statute, two types of evidence can be used to establish claims of discrimination against an employer: direct and circumstantial evidence.
- Direct evidence is a document or the testimony of an eyewitness that directly supports a party’s claim. For example, direct evidence of discrimination would be a written statement on an employment application from an interviewer stating: “Do not hire her because she is a woman.” Or, direct evidence might be a co-worker overhearing a supervisor telling the HR manager that he fired the employee because he was an Arab.
- Circumstantial evidence is evidence that tends to prove a disputed fact through proof of other facts. The fact-finder is asked to infer a fact from other facts through reason, common sense and experience. The inferred fact must be logical, reasonable and more probably true than not true. Example of circumstantial evidence: Suppose you are inside a room that has no windows. Suppose a person walks in wearing a wet raincoat, wet boots and carrying an umbrella. Even though you cannot see whether it is raining outside, you would probably conclude that it must be raining. The wet raincoat, boots and umbrella are all circumstantial evidence that it is raining.
- The law makes no distinction between the weight to be given to either direct or circumstantial evidence. The decision must simply be based on the preponderance of evidence (i.e., more likely than not true).
- How enforcement is handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and CT Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (“CHRO”).
- A charge of discrimination must first be filed with EEOC within 300 days (or within 180 days if filed with CHRO) of an alleged conduct before a lawsuit can be filed in court.
- EEOC (or CHRO) will then conduct an investigation and issue a determination as to whether discrimination occurred.
- Although employees must first file discrimination charges with the EEOC/CHRO, employees can pursue lawsuits in court even if the EEOC (or CHRO) have dismissed a claim without finding discrimination occurred or if the EEOC (or CHRO) have failed to issue findings within designated timeframe.
- Damages typically include back pay and lost employment benefits, reinstatement and/or front pay, compensatory damages (i.e., for emotional distress), punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
- Under federal law, compensatory and punitive damages are capped based on size of employer. (1) $50,000 for employers with 15 to 100 employees. (2) $100,000 for employers with 101 to 200 employees. (3) $300,000 for employers with 501 or more employees.
- Under Connecticut law, there is no cap on awards for compensatory and punitive damages.
- Discrimination claims filed in court are decided by juries.
- Generally under federal law, there is no personal liability for supervisors and co-workers.
- Under Connecticut law, an individual manager/supervisor can be held personally liable if he or she “aids” in the alleged discrimination or harassment, or if he or she acts in retaliation against someone who brought a complaint or discrimination or harassment.
If you’re an employer and have questions about employment discrimination issues, consider calling on the attorneys at Kainen, Escalera & McHale in Connecticut. We do one thing and one thing only – we are an employer defense law firm – in fact, we are one of the largest employer defense law firms in the region. What’s more, each of our attorneys have over 20 years of experience in employment law and labor law matters and can provide your business with comprehensive legal counsel ranging from assistance with necessary preventive measures to trial advocacy. Please contact us if we can help you.
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