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Employment Discrimination

Federal Level: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is responsible for enforcing laws which make it illegal to discriminate against an employee. Types of discrimination can include age discrimination, disability discrimination, racial discrimination, gender discrimination or sex discrimination (which includes pregnancy discrimination), national origin discrimination, genetic discrimination, and religious discrimination. It is also illegal to engage in harassment. Harassment occurs when an employee is harassed because of his or her race, sex, age, disability, race, gender, sex, genetics, national origin, or religion. It is also illegal for an employer to take retaliatory action – otherwise known as retaliation – against a person for complaining of discrimination These laws apply to hiring, firing, promotions, and other aspects of the employment relationship. The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination (including harassment and retaliation) against certain employers. Namely, most employers who have at least fifteen employees are covered within the EEOC’s jurisdiction. If an employee or job applicant maintains that he or she has been subjected to discrimination, the employee or job applicant can file what is known as a charge of discrimination against the employer. The charge of discrimination must include a description of the action the employer took which the employee/applicant felt was discriminatory in nature and the type of discrimination. Once a charge of discrimination is filed, the EEOC will investigate the claim. The EEOC will investigate the matter to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. When a charge is filed against an employer for discrimination, the EEOC will notify the entity being charged (the employer) within ten days of the charge being filed. This notification to the employer will include information about how the employer can access the EEOC’s online portal, respond to the charge, and more. During the investigation, the employee/job applicant (known as the charging party) and the employer (known as the respondent) will have the opportunity to provide information related to the charge. The EEOC will request the respondent employer to submit a statement of position, which is essentially the employer’s response to the discrimination allegations. The EEOC may request the employer respond to what is referred to as a Request for Information, which asks the employer to provide certain documents. The EEOC may further conduct an on-site visit. The EEOC may also conduct interviews. Once the investigation stage is complete, the EEOC will make its determination as to whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred, it will issue a letter of determination which formally states that there is reasonable to believe discrimination occurred. The EEOC will invite both parties to seek to resolve the charge through a conciliation process, which is similar to mediation. As stated, if the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred, the EEOC will try to settle the charges through conciliation. Likewise, it is important to know that either party can request that the parties engage in mediation during the investigation/charging process. While the parties are not required to participate in mediation, it is certainly encouraged. If the parties settle the matter, they will request a dismissal of the charge. If conciliation is unsuccessful (meaning the charges cannot be settled between the parties), and the EEOC has determined reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred, then the EEOC can enforce the violations by filing a lawsuit. If it decides not to litigate the matter, the charging party will receive a notice of right to sue letter. If the EEOC determines that it has not found reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will issue a notice which is called a dismissal and notice of rights. The notice informs the employee or applicant that he or she has the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within ninety days. This means that the employee can then file a lawsuit regarding his or her discrimination claim.

State Level: The Florida Commission on Human Relations

Most states and local agencies also have laws which prohibit discrimination – including the State of Florida. The Florida legislature created the Florida Commission on Humans Relations (FCHR) to address discrimination and enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act. If an employee maintains that he or she has been subjected to a charge of discrimination, the employee can file a complaint with the FCHR. The FCHR also has a questionnaire available which solicits information about claims of employment discrimination. This questionnaire assists the FCHR in determining whether it has jurisdiction over the discrimination claims. The FCHR will similarly review and investigate the charge of discrimination (including color, sex, race, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, and age) and reach a decision as to the claim.

Local Level: The Pinellas County Office of Human Rights

On a more local level, the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights was established to protect residents of Pinellas County from cases of discrimination – including employment discrimination. The Pinellas County Office of Human Rights administers Chapter 70 of the Pinellas County Code of Ordinances. This Code prohibits discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment), sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status, or disability. To file a complaint with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights (PCHR), the employee or job applicant completes what is known as an “Employment Discrimination Questionnaire.” The PCHR will investigate the employment discrimination complaint, facilitate conciliation of an employment discrimination complaint, and encourage mediation. The PCHR also conducts training for employers.

Know Your Rights

A claim may be filed with the PCHR, FCHR, or it can be dual-filed with both the FCHR and the EEOC. It is important to know that an employee (or applicant) is required to file a charge of discrimination before it can file a lawsuit. Further, there are time limits for filing a claim. You must ensure that your claim is timely filed. Likewise, if you are an employer who has received a charge of discrimination or similar compliant, it is important to respond to the charge and provide as much information to defend the charge of discrimination.

Employment Law Attorneys at Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A.

If you feel that you have been the target of employment discrimination – or if you are an employer that has received a charge of discrimination – contact the employment law attorneys at Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. today. Our experienced employment lawyers can speak with you regarding your situation.

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