Protecting Federal Workers
Discrimination in the Federal Workplace
If you have experienced discrimination in the federal workplace due to a trait over which you have no control, you may feel helpless to regain your rights that have been usurped. Yet instead of being impotent, you are empowered because the strength of the U.S. legal system is at your disposal. Laws have been enacted to ensure you are treated fairly and to protect you from the misconduct or negligence of your employer. When these laws are violated, a system is in place for you to request just restitution and compensation for your losses.
Laws That Protect Federal Employees From Workplace Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Title VII protects job applicants and employees from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. It prohibits employers from treating workers with bias based on these traits in any aspect of employment, including recruiting, hiring, promotion, performance measurement, discipline, and wages. The law also disallows the segregation of these protected groups by isolating them from other employees or customers. Moreover, it forbids harassment and a hostile work environment, which involves offensive conduct such as ethnic slurs or racial “jokes.”
In addition to prohibiting intentional discrimination, Title VII outlaws neutral job policies that affect one group more than others. Furthermore, employees who express their opposition to unfair practices or file charges are safeguarded from retaliation. In short, the law is broad-sweeping, protecting employees from any manifestation of discrimination that encompasses tangibles like salary as well as intangibles like emotional distress.
Back pay is the type of damage most frequently awarded. It is comprised of the wages, salary, and benefits the individual would have earned during the period extending from the date of termination or failure of promotion to the date of trial.
Compensatory damages are permitted for the loss of future wages and emotional distress in addition to pain & suffering. Limits are placed on these damages that correlate with the size of the employer. For example, an employer with 100 employees would have a cap of $50,000.
Punitive damages are allowed but are restricted to cases where the employer discriminates with malice or reckless indifference to the individual’s rights. These damages are capped and are the same as those for compensatory damages.
Other remedies may include attorney’s fees, court costs, and costs of expert witnesses. Front pay, an award that compensates victims for future losses, is also a possibility.
Injunctive relief is available in cases where the discrimination is intentional. This means an employee can be reinstated in their former job.
The Rehabilitation Act protects disabled job applicants or employees from discrimination in the workplace. It covers all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, wages, promotions, training, and benefits. The law protects anyone with a physical or mental impairment who is able to perform the essential functions of the job.
Other aspects of the act involve the protection of employees with a history of a disability, such as cancer in remission, in addition to those who have a relationship with a disabled person. As in Title VII, the law prohibits harassment that ensues form an offensive work environment. Employers are also prohibited from forcing a job applicant to disclose a medical condition or disability.
Those who employ the disabled are required to take reasonable steps to accommodate their impairment unless doing so would involve significant expense or difficulty. These measures might include making the workplace wheelchair accessible or providing a reader for the visually impaired.
Damages include back pay, front pay and attorney’s fees. The prevailing party may be reinstated or promoted in their position and also receive reasonable accommodation where it is needed in their job. If intentional discrimination is found, compensatory and punitive damages may be awarded.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits the employment discrimination of individuals based on age who are 40 years old and older. It applies to both job applicants and employees, encompassing all work-related issues such as hiring, firing, benefits, promotions, training, job assignments and job advertisements. Segregating or limiting employees in such a manner that would deprive them of job opportunities is also disallowed. Employees who experience age discrimination and take actions to oppose the practice are protected from retaliation.
Victims are entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages under ADEA. Compensatory awards include attorney fees, back pay for the loss of income and emotional distress. If the employer willfully violated the law, the victim is entitled to receive an additional monetary award. An employer may also be forced to hire, rehire or promote the discriminated individual.
The Whistleblower Protection Act
Federal employees who disclose illegal or improper government activities are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. It applies to most federal executive branch employees. To learn more about your rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act, please visit our “Whistleblower” page.
What You Should Do if You Are a Federal Worker and Have Been Discriminated Against in the Workplace – the EEO Process
Stages of EEO Process
As a federal employee or job applicant, our laws protect you from discrimination due to color, sex, race, national origin, religion, age, and disability. If you feel you have been a victim of discrimination, you are entitled to file a complaint.
Your initial step is to get in touch with the EEO counselor at the agency where you are employed or where you have applied for a job. It needs to be done within 45 days of the discrimination.
In most cases, you will have the options of participating in EEO counseling or in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program.
ADR is a mediation process where both parties in the dispute come together to discuss the grievance. It is led by a neutral person trained to help the disputants come to a mutually agreeable solution. The advantage of this option is the opportunity for a fast, informal settlement of the issue.
If the dispute is not settled through counseling or ADR, the next step is to file a formal discrimination complaint with the EEO office of the agency. This must be done within 15 days from the day your EEO counselor notifies you how to file.
After you file the complaint, the agency reviews it and decides if it will be dismissed or accepted.
If the complaint is accepted, the agency has 180 days in which to conduct an investigation. At the conclusion of the probe, the agency gives you two choices: ask for a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge or request the agency to make the decision on whether the discrimination occurred.
In cases where the agency makes the decision and concludes that no discrimination has transpired, you can appeal to the EEOC or take the complaint to federal district court.
If you decide to request a hearing with the EEOC, file a written request within 30 days of the date the agency notifies you of your hearing rights. An EEOC administrative judge will conduct the hearing and decide on the merit of your case. If he finds your complaint is valid, he will order relief.
After the agency receives the administrative judge’s ruling, it will issue a final order stating whether it agrees with the ruling and if it will comply with the judge’s order for relief. The agency has 40 days to issue the final order, which will have information about your right to appeal to the EEOC along with your right to file a civil action in federal district court. It will include the deadline for filing for both options.
If you decide to appeal the agency’s final order, including the one for dismissal of your complaint, you can file to the EEOC Office of Federal Operations. You have 30 days to file after you receive the final order.
The appellate attorneys will review the entire file, which involves everything from the beginning of the process.
If the appeal decision is not in your favor, you can request a reconsideration. This request will be granted only if you can show the decision was based on an error involved in either the facts of the case or the law applied to the facts. The reconsideration request must be made within 30 days after you receive the appeal decision. It should be noted that if the appeal decision is in your favor, the agency could ask for a reconsideration as well. Once the reconsideration request is decided, the ruling is final.
After the administrative complaint process is complete, you can file a lawsuit. However, under certain conditions within the process you will have an opportunity to quit it and file a lawsuit in court.
Opportunities to quit the process and file a suit include the following: The agency has not issued a ruling after 180 days of the filing of your complaint, and no appeal has been filed. No more than 90 days have passed since the issuance of the agency’s ruling on your complaint, and no appeal has been filed. The EEOC has not issued a ruling after 180 days of the date you filed the appeal. No more than 90 days have passed since the issuance of the EEOC’s decision on your appeal.
EEO Process Versus EEOC Process
The EEO process for federal employees and the EEOC process for private sector workers have differences and similarities. While the counseling option is missing from the EEOC process, it does have a mediation part that enables you to discuss your concerns. The mediators do not make decisions, but they can suggest ways to solve the disagreements.
Following mediation, the EEOC may dismiss your complaint if they decide discrimination likely will not be found. Dismissal will also occur if the complaint does not fall under the jurisdiction of the EEOC or if your charge is untimely.
In the EEO process, after mediation the complaint is investigated by the agency against which you have a complaint. An investigation also occurs within the EEOC process, but it is conducted by the EEOC itself rather than the company where you are employed or from where you are seeking employment. The investigation will take several months to complete.
Another difference in the EEOC process is the possibility of a subpoena. If the employer fails to cooperate with the investigation, the EEOC can order an administrative subpoena to obtain the necessary data and gain access to the facility.
If the EEOC investigation fails to find the employer has violated the law, they will send you a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue, a document that permits you to file a lawsuit in a court of law. Conversely, if they find a violation, they will seek a voluntary settlement with the employer. When this proves to be impossible, your case will be referred to the legal department to ascertain if they should file a lawsuit. If they decide against it, they will give you a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue.
Fewer steps are involved in the EEOC process, as it does not include an appeal and the reconsideration of an appeal. Nevertheless, if your complaint is not resolved, both processes can lead to a lawsuit.
An Attorney Can Help You Succeed in a Federal Discrimination Claim
The legal system is complex, and discrimination cases can be particularly complicated. Aside from federal laws, you have state laws to consider, a factor that adds to the procedures you must follow. An experienced employment attorney can help you navigate through the intricacies of the process, making it less arduous. He or she can answer your questions, evaluate your case and draw upon legal expertise to maximize your chances of success.
If you would like to explore you options further, please contact The Spiggle Law Firm.
Learn how to:
- Identify the laws that apply to your situation
- Take action to maximize severance value
- Find the best lawyer for your case