Articles Posted in Discrimination

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. Of course, this includes an employer that makes hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation decisions based on a person’s faith. However, Title VII also more broadly protects employees from having the “terms and conditions” of their employment affected because of their religious beliefs. This means that Texas employers should reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs or practices if an employee’s beliefs conflict with the employer’s work requirements.

Common accommodations include an employer allowing for an employee to maintain a flexible schedule, allowing employees to swap shifts when necessary, and also potentially allowing for an employee’s reassignment. A reasonable accommodation may also relate to an employer’s dress or grooming policies. For example, by allowing an employee to wear a head covering or allowing employees to maintain facial hair. In addition, an employee’s request not to wear a specific article of clothing, such as pants or a skirt, may also be the basis for a religious accommodation. Only requests that are based on sincerely held religious beliefs will require an accommodation. However, the term “religion” is broadly defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and includes strongly held moral and ethical beliefs.

To obtain a religious accommodation, a Texas employee must first notify their employer of their request. Typically, this should be done in writing and should explain that the employee’s request is based on a sincerely held religious belief. In some cases, an employer will need more time to determine what would need to be done to provide the accommodation. This is supposed to be an interactive process between employee and employer, as the employer attempts to determine how it could implement a satisfactory accommodation. An employer must make a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would cause the employer to suffer an undue hardship.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from engaging in discriminatory conduct during employment. This also includes the pre-employment interview process. Employers cannot make a hiring decision based on a person’s age, race, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.

Sometimes, employers trying to gather as much information as possible about an applicant will rely on preconceived notions and stereotypes in doing so.

A few of the problematic questions employers routinely ask are:

  • whether an applicant is married, engaged, single, or divorced;
  • whether an applicant has any children and, if so, how old they are;
  • whether an applicant plans on becoming pregnant;
  • what an applicant’s spouse or boyfriend does for a living;
  • whether an applicant attends religious services and, if so, what days; and
  • the origins of an applicant’s last name.

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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.The 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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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.Although 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?

Light duty is a malleable term that is applied differently depending on the employment setting. Broadly, light duty is considered to be a type of temporary or permanent work that is less strenuous than an employee’s normal job duties. Light duty can be applied in both physical and mental-health contexts, and it is relative to the particular position.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact in federal age discrimination cases against government employers. In the case Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the Court held the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to government employers of all sizes.

The ADEA

When the ADEA was passed in 1967, it added age to the list of characteristics that could not be used by an employer as a basis for an adverse employment decision. Under section 630(b), the ADEA defines the term employer as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees.” However, the statute also states that an employer “also means … a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the plaintiffs were two men, aged 46 and 54, who were terminated from their positions by the defendant fire department when the fire department began facing budgetary concerns. The fire department was a political subdivision of the State of Arizona. At the time they were fired, the employees were the oldest two firefighters in the department.

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Texas is home to a large number of the country’s veterans. In fact, it is estimated there are over 1.6 million veterans in Texas, putting Texas behind only California as the country’s most veteran-populated state. As a result, veterans make up a sizable portion of the Texas workforce.

Unfortunately, veterans, like many other groups, are still facing issues of discrimination in the workplace. However, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), public and private employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee based on an employee’s past, present, or future military service.

Unlike other types of workplace discrimination, such as discrimination based on an employee’s race, color, national origin, sex, gender, or religion, discrimination against veterans is not included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Instead, veterans are protected by USERRA, which provides comprehensive protection to veterans. The Act protects those who are currently serving in, or previously served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Army National Guard, Coast Guard, Air Force, Air National Guard. Additionally, the Act protects those whose service was both voluntary and involuntary.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law enacted in 1990 designed to protect individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those individuals who have disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA applies to areas such as public and private places, transportation, employment, and education. This means that both private and public employers are covered under the ADA.

What Is Considered a Disability under the ADA?

Almost ten years ago, an amendment to the ADA was signed into law clarifying what is considered a disability for the purposes of the ADA. To qualify for protection under the ADA, a person’s impairment must be substantial. Impairment is considered substantial when it restricts or limits a major life activity. Some things considered major life activities are learning, working, walking, breathing, hearing, and seeing.

When Do ADA Protections Apply and What Is Covered?

An employer is required to provide protections under the ADA if the employee has a disability and is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. Essentially, the individual must be able to meet the employer’s requirements, and then must be able to perform the job with or without accommodations. Under the ADA, an employer cannot have any discriminatory practices in areas such as compensation, benefits, hiring, training, firing, and recruiting.

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The United States has a long history of discrimination against various groups, including racial minorities and women. And it should come as no surprise that the most desirable jobs are filled by those who have been given the best opportunities to succeed by not having the road-block of discrimination erected in their path. This often means that certain minority groups, as well as women, are poorly represented across certain industries.This fact has led some private and public-sector employees to engage in what is known as “reverse discrimination.” Essentially, reverse discrimination is exhibiting the preference of a minority candidate over a candidate of a majority group.

Discrimination is often used in the context of adverse action being taken against a person in a minority group. However, that is not necessarily always the case. When an employer exhibits a preference for one group over another based on an immutable characteristic such as race, they are engaging in a form of discrimination. However, the Texas Labor Code and Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to all citizens equally, regardless of whether they belong to a majority or minority group.

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Mediation is a pretrial strategy that is designed to settle disputes before parties embark on a lengthy and often costly trial. Mediation is employed in many different contexts and is often one of the first methods of resolution in Texas employment discrimination cases. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has implemented mediation programs as one of the first steps to resolving employment discrimination lawsuits.

The mediation process allows the two parties to attempt to resolve their issues and points of contention with the assistance of a trained and neutral third-party. Mediation is an appropriate step in many types of cases that do not involve complex evidentiary or procedural issues. Mediators are trained in the art of negotiation, effective listening, and conflict resolution. In certain instances, the mediator is a trained attorney; however, they are prohibited from providing legal advice while in their mediator role.

The Three Main Types of Mediation

Generally, there are three schools of thought in regards to mediation: facilitative, evaluative, and transformative. In short, during facilitative mediation the mediator does not provide any type of opinion and only facilitates a discussion between the parties. During evaluative mediation, the mediator will provide information regarding the likelihood of success and some potential, reasonable terms of resolution. Finally, during transformative mediation, the main objective is to change the parties’ relationship with one another and allow them to successfully resolve the dispute.

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Civil Rights Act) was monumental in that it provided crucial rights to many people who had been denied equal treatment for many years. While the Act prohibited discrimination based on certain bases, other bases were left uncovered. One area of Texas employment discrimination the Civil Rights Act did not solve was pregnancy discrimination. Following the Civil Rights Act, employers continued to discriminate against women on the basis of their pregnancy. When it came time to explain their seemingly discriminatory behavior, employers routinely claimed they were basing their actions not on the sex of the employee (which was prohibited under the Act) but instead on the fact that the employee was pregnant. This was an unfortunate but accepted distinction for 14 years.

In 1978, however, things changed for the better with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. Technically, the PDA was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The text of the PDA was short, and the message was straightforward. Essentially, discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions” was considered sex discrimination. Thus, an employer could no longer discriminate on the basis of an employee’s pregnant status, since doing so would amount to sex discrimination.

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