Have you been treated differently than other employees? Are you judged not on the merit of your performance, but by your supervisor’s biases and prejudices? Have you been subjected to harassment or ridicule because you have a different background or religion than your coworkers? Did you complain about discrimination or harassment, only to experience retaliation? Each of these situations could constitute illegal discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
Houston employment lawyers Kalandra N. Wheeler, Robert J. Wiley, and Julie St. John represent workers in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation cases against their employers.Race and National Origin Employment Discrimination
Race and national origin discrimination are prohibited by a number of laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Texas Labor Code. Employees are protected against discrimination on the basis of any race, regardless of whether it is Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or any other. National origin discrimination includes protection against discrimination based on national origin, one’s perceived national original, or accent.
Race and national origin discrimination are more common in Houston workplaces than you might expect. Examples of race and national origin employment discrimination include:
- A car dealership that pays Hispanic salespeople a lower commission rate than Anglo salespeople.
- An energy company that denies a job or a promotion because of race. This includes denial based on biases and prejudices against minorities. This also includes affirmative action programs that disfavor Anglo employees.
- A manufacturing plant that imposes English-only rules.
- A supervisor at a hotel who defines employees by stereotypes about race, ethnicity, or national origin. This includes grouping employees into certain jobs by race or national origin (front desk workers are White, maintenance workers are Black, housekeepers are Hispanic, etc.).
- A restaurant that harasses employees based on race, such as race-based nicknames, race-based practical jokes, referring to groups of employees with pejorative terms like N-----, or assigning degrading work to employees of a particular race or national origin.
Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and the Texas Labor Code. Importantly, these laws protect both men and women who face discrimination or harassment because of their gender. Approximately one-in-five claims of gender discrimination and sexual harassment are made by men.
Examples of unlawful employment practices include:
- A university that pays female professors less than male professors.
- A retailer such as Wal-Mart that does not promote women to management positions. This is also called a glass ceiling.
- Unequal hiring, firing, or promotional practices.
- Hostile work environment with sexual harassment.
- Fostering an environment dominated by an exclusive “good ol’ boy” system.
- Pregnancy discrimination.
In addition to gender discrimination, sexual harassment is also prohibited. This includes:
- A trucking company that allows male employees to make numerous sexual comments towards female employees. This is called hostile work environment sexual harassment.
- A supervisor at a pizza restaurant who suggests that a female waitress go on a date with him to get better shifts. This is called quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Despite the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), Houston workers have some protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some of the protections available for Houston workers include:
- On December 18, 2014, former Attorney General Eric Holder used his authority to instruct the Department of Justice to treat all cases of gender identity discrimination as gender discrimination under existing laws.
- On July 15, 2015, the EEOC ruled that sexual orientation is gender discrimination and protected against discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- In September, 2013, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appeals court over Texas) ruled that discrimination because of gender stereotypes is illegal. In that case, the Court upheld a verdict where a gay man was fired by construction company Boh Brothers for being too effeminate.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Texas Labor Code prohibit discrimination against an employee for being over forty years old.
Examples of age discrimination in employment include:
- A city manager who tells older workers that they must take a retirement package or face termination, if such action was based on the workers’ ages.
- A trucking company supervisor who tells his employees that he picked the three oldest workers for a layoff because they were the least physically able to get under trucks and perform repairs.
- The new CEO of a marketing company fires several older workers after announcing that he would be making hiring decisions based on fresh ideas, new blood, and youthful zeal.
- A police department that denies an employee training because “he is so close to retirement” and “will probably retire in a few years so it’s not worth it.”
Religious discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Texas Labor Code.
Religious employees have the same protections that apply to workers based on race, national origin, and gender. In addition, employers must accommodate an employee’s religious practice unless it is an “undue burden.” Examples of religious accommodations include:
- Time off on Saturday or Sunday to attend church services.
- Time off on a holy day where an employee’s faith requires that he or she refrain from working.
- Time during the workday to worship, such as a Muslim who must pray at certain hours.
- The ability to wear religious dress or clothing in the workplace.
Disability discrimination is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Texas Labor Code. In 2009, the ADA was amended to give even greater protections to workers with disabilities such as diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, and cancer.
As with other protected classes such as race, gender, or age, an employer cannot change the terms or conditions of employment because of disability. This includes decisions about hiring, firing, pay, and promotion. An employee cannot be harassed because he or she has a disability.
Importantly, the ADA also requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations could include:
- Allowing an employee to work from home while recovering from cancer.
- Giving a diabetic employee a private office to administer insulin injections.
- Allowing an employee with an anxiety disorder to bring a service animal to work.
- Providing an employee with a vision impairment with a larger monitor.
There are short deadlines to take action, typically 180 days under state law and 300 days under federal law. If you have experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, please contact us at your earliest opportunity.