Articles Posted in Discrimination

Employment discrimination is widely recognized as an illegal practice. However, what exactly constitutes discrimination changes over time. Due in part to a long-awaited shift in societal values, as well as empirical data establishing that many immutable characteristics have nothing to do with someone’s ability to perform the functions of a job, the number of protected groups under state and federal employment discrimination statutes continues to grow.

PaycheckAs the protected groups have grown over time, so too has the type of conduct that employers are prohibited from engaging in. No longer are Texas employment discrimination lawsuits limited to an employee being fired or demoted for an impermissible reason. Today’s anti-discrimination laws are much more robust, protecting employees from all kinds of workplace discrimination.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are not permitted to discriminate in any of the following areas:

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Most people on social media assume that their posts, while not necessarily private, are beyond the access of their employers. Indeed, part of what makes social media so valuable is that users are able to express themselves and their beliefs freely and without fear. However, many employees over the last few years have learned the hard way that employers can often find ways to access their posts. But when a Texas employer finds something they don’t like on an employee’s social media account, can the employer actually take action based on the employee’s social media posts?

Social Media AppsThe answer, as is often the case with legal questions of this nature, is “it depends.” As a general matter, Texas is an at-will employment state, meaning that a Texas employer can terminate an employee for any reason at all, so long as it is not an illegal reason. Thus, if an employer does not like something that an employee posted on social media, the employer may be able to fire that employee over it.

Texas employers cannot discriminate, however. And if the post in question was expressing participation in or support of a protected group, the line of what the employer is permitted to do becomes blurry. That is because engaging in discriminatory employment practices regarding protected classes is illegal. In Texas, the classes that are protected by both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes are:

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Under Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against their employees based on a number of criteria, including religion. Of course, under Title VII, employers are prohibited from making hiring or firing decisions based on a person’s religion, but the protection granted to employees under Title VII goes beyond that. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency given broad authority to oversee the enforcement of Title VII.

BibleEmployers must also allow for certain accommodations to be made for an employee’s religious beliefs. According to the EEOC, the following are examples of accommodations that employers have been required to make based on an employee’s religion:

  • Allowing an exception to be made for an employee dress code;
  • Permitting an employee to take time off for a religious holiday;
  • Excusing an employee from a staff prayer or other religious invocation;
  • Granting an employee permission to pray at certain times of the day;
  • Keeping an employee off the schedule during their day of Sabbath or worship.

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to offer employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations that will provide them with the ability to apply for or perform the necessary functions of their positions. Employers will often attempt to shrug off this responsibility by claiming that providing the employee with a reasonable accommodation would cause the company to suffer an undue hardship. However, in order to prove an undue hardship and avoid a Texas disability discrimination claim, the employer must provide evidence showing that the accommodation would result in a significant expense or difficulty.

Light Duty WorkAlthough employees may request a specific reasonable accommodation, employers may provide their own accommodations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) looks at various factors to determine whether the hardship is significant or whether the accommodation is appropriate.

When Is Light Duty Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

Those who have immigrated to the United States have played a pivotal role in our nation’s success. Indeed, the goal of encouraging immigrants to assist in growing the United States’ economy was one of the reasons that Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII. Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was enacted as an omnibus bill designed to address discrimination beyond employment, focusing on voting, education, and public accommodations.

DiversityThe purview of Title VII and the EEOC intersect in many ways. Most recently, the EEOC has issued clarification regarding the scope of national origin discrimination when accent discrimination is alleged.

Title VII National Origin Discrimination

Title VII prohibits qualifying employers from discriminating against an individual because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Discrimination can take many forms, including failure to interview or hire, disparate compensation or benefits, or terminating an employee because of those enumerated characteristics. A Texas national origin discrimination claim can be appropriate in these situations.

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Disclosing a disability can be daunting because, in many instances, this requires individuals to discuss highly personal information with professional associates. There are many factors to consider when deciding how to disclose a disability. Prospective employees often feel pressured to disclose a disability, especially when they may require an accommodation. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly outlines when a disclosure must be made and what an employer is required to do to accommodate that disability.

HandshakeWhen do Texas Employers Need to Be Notified of Disability?

Requiring a prospective employee to disclose their disability prior to a job offer is an unreasonable requirement. As such, the ADA has provided guidance to both employees and employers on what is permissible to inquire about and what is required to be disclosed.

In general, the ADA bars an employer from asking questions, during the pre-offer period, that may require a prospective employee to reveal a disability. This includes prohibiting an employer from asking questions during an interview, eliciting answers through written questionnaires, or from reviewing records from a medical exam.

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In 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark employment discrimination case, McDonnell Douglas v. Green, outlining a framework for analyzing cases alleging employment discrimination. The McDonnell-Douglas test, as it has come to be known, is applied in nearly all Texas employment discrimination cases.

GavelWhen the Supreme Court first announced the McDonnell-Douglas test, it was in the context of a defense motion for summary judgment. In other words, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case before it was even submitted to a jury. Essentially, the argument in a pre-trial motion for summary judgment is that the non-moving party cannot prevail at trial because, as a matter of law, their case is insufficient.

The McDonnell-Douglas test is fairly straightforward, although it can become complex in its application. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. This normally requires that the plaintiff prove that they belong to a protected class and that the employer took some adverse employment action against them. This creates a presumption that the defendant employer engaged in discriminatory conduct.

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Recently, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling prohibiting Texas employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the plaintiff in that case was ultimately unsuccessful in establishing a case of Texas sexual orientation discrimination, the decision paved the way for gender-identity discrimination lawsuits.

GavelUnder Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, certain qualifying employers are not allowed to discriminate or harass an employee based on that person’s sex. Discrimination covers all aspects of employment, including things such as termination, hiring, promotions, and benefits.

More and more advocates are beginning to speak out about gender identity and the related discrimination many of these individuals face in their professional and personal lives. Historically, Title VII has not protected these individuals from discrimination by their employers; however, recent cases have begun to change the tide in how these cases are handled.

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BrailleBoth the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 prohibit employment discrimination based on disabilities in most workplaces in Texas. If you think you’ve been subjected to discrimination because of your disability, you may have a basis to bring a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

Individuals qualified as having disabilities under federal and state laws have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits at least one of their major life activities, have a record of having such a disability, or are perceived as having this type of disability. Major life activities under the ADA include caring for yourself, performing physical tasks, seeing, hearing, sleeping, eating, walking, standing, bending, lifting, reading, concentrating, thinking, and breathing. Major life activities also include the proper operation of a major bodily function, such as neurological function, brain function, or endocrine function. “Disability” is supposed to be defined broadly.

An impairment that substantially limits a single major life activity doesn’t need to limit any other major life activity in order to be considered a disability that is covered by the ADA. Even impairments that are episodic or in remission may be disabilities if they would significantly restrict a major life activity when active or not in remission.

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old manIf you are age 40 or over, you are protected from age discrimination under Texas Labor Code Chapter 21, as well as the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). By law, a Texas private employer with a minimum of 15 or more employees is covered by state law. All state and local governmental entities are covered by state law, regardless of how many employees they have. The ADEA applies to employers with a minimum of 20 employees in 20 or more weeks of the current or prior year. Neither Texas nor federal law protects younger workers from age discrimination.

Age discrimination includes any adverse employment decision taken against you due to your being 40 or older. Employment decisions include hiring, firing, promotions, and demotions, as well as refusing to allow someone to be trained or participate in some other privilege of employment. It is illegal for employers to include age requirements in their job notices, except when they can show an age lower than the limit is reasonably necessary to operating the business. For example, a police department may set an upper limit on the age you can be to do a particular position that requires more physical ability.

It can be hard to determine whether you’ve been subjected to discrimination based on your age. Sometimes, an employer makes comments about wanting fresh faces or critiques older workers in order to nudge older workers to take a retirement or quit. These types of comments and criticisms may be used to show age discrimination, if soon afterward you are terminated or denied a promotion. While there’s no prohibition against being asked your age or date of birth in a job interview, the question could show intent to discriminate. Usually, when age information is necessary, an employer waits to ask until after the employee is hired.

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