Interpreting Title VII

Interpreting Title VII by James Vagnini {Read in 4 minutes}  When I was in law school 20 years ago, I wrote an article on legislation before Congress referred to as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “ENDA.” This legislation was aimed at expanding Title VII’s coverage to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories not specifically provided by Title VII.  
Title VII is part of the original Civil Rights Act federal law enacted in 1964 which provides employees protection from discrimination because of race, national origin, and gender. Over the years, the law was expanded to include some protections for those over the age of 40 and the disabled, and is the bedrock of civil rights law in the employment environment.
To this day, the ENDA legislation has not been passed and there are no specific federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Moreover, Title VII has not been amended to include these additional specific categories (despite other expansions). It is a sad commentary on our country, and our politics, that in 20+ years, we could not get our act together to provide the specific protections many working citizens require.
Despite this hurdle, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the watchdog agency empowered to enforce Title VII, has interpreted Title VII to protect against discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.  
In fact, the EEOC has consistently interpreted any act of discrimination on account of these factors to be something that is covered by sex/gender discrimination. This means you are protected if:

  • You don’t conform to sexual or gender stereotypes
  • You identify as a different gender than the gender you may appear to be or were born
  • You have a different sexual orientation or prefer sex that doesn’t conform with the popular notion of what a man or a woman should be
  • Trans workers who don’t fit the form of what is considered to be the gender norms of society

The EEOC has been granted broad discretion to resolve disputes but unsettled legal issues still have to be resolved, by and large, in court — and federal courts have differed. Some circuits agree with the EEOC’s interpretation that sexual orientation falls under Title VII sex discrimination,while others have found that it does not.
Whenever you have circuit court splits like this, the issues become ripe for the Supreme Court — which can either agree to take up the issue or decline to take up the case(s) that address the conflict between the circuits. Recently, it was announced that the Supreme Court will take up this issue in the next term.
This is going to be a big, big decision. Obviously, we have a different Supreme Court makeup today than we did a few years ago, but this is an issue that has gained a lot of popularity and a lot of momentum legally, politically and socially.
The decision will have a huge impact on the landscape of workplace discrimination.  The Supreme Court will determine whether Title VII is essentially expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes thereby making it the law of the land.  If they find that Title VII does not provide such protection, it will permit employers, to a degree, to discriminate on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBT workers would have to turn to state and local laws for protection should the Supreme Court limit the law.  Many states, such as New York, have laws that protect the LGBT community working in the state. Many states, sadly, have not extended such protections to members of the LGBT workforce.   
Things take time, but this decision will be here before we know it.  It is something that will have a huge impact on employee protections in the workplace — and could set back a lot of work and progress that has been made so far by the EEOC and the lower district courts who have upheld the EEOC’s interpretation of the law.
James A. Vagnini
Partner
email: jvagnini@vkvlawyers.com
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Workplace Discrimination? Get that Complaint Filed!

Employees in this country have protections against workplace discrimination and harassment. These include protection from sexual or racial harassment, national origin, religion, age, disability, and gender (including sexual orientation) discrimination. These forms of harassment and discrimination are spelled out under Title VII, and its amendments, which is the statute enacted as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Workplace Discrimination? Get that Complaint Filed!
Prior to that time, there had been other federal statutes such as §1981 and §1983 which address primarily race and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation. These sections, however, did not include gender, religion, disability, or age discrimination. As a result of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act was passed, which was designed to specifically address workplace discrimination and expanded protections for employees subjected to these additional types of discrimination.
The Title VII statute empowered what is known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and created that faction of the government whose job it is to survey and take complaints of workplace discrimination. Anyone wanting to bring a complaint and go into Federal court under those claims has to first go through the EEOC administrative process. As a federal statute, it is the same in every state and any employer who has 15 employees or more is subject to the statute.
The EEOC Filing Deadline
Title VII sets a complaint filing deadline of 180 calendar days. However, it also provides that in any state where there is a similar employment discrimination statute, such as New York, the deadline may be expanded to 300 days. With the exception of a few states like New Mexico and Georgia, every state in this country has a state-level statute against workplace discrimination. In those states that do not, the filing period is limited to the 180 days.
A complaint must be initiated when the harm takes place. You can’t have something happen two years earlier and then wait, worrying whether you are going to lose your job. That is certainly a legitimate worry, but if you choose to wait and try to raise that complaint after the 180-300 days have passed, it will be considered untimely because the statute requires you to make that complaint within 180-300 days of the occurrence of discrimination.
However, certain claims trigger the 180-300 day filing requirement after the last occurrence of discrimination where the discrimination takes place over a period of time. This type of discrimination is known as a “continuous violation.” For example, if you are a victim of sexual harassment and you were subjected to repeated, unwanted sexual advances or comments over a period of months, the clock starts running from the last act of harassment, not the first. Most employees do not know this.
If you believe you have a legitimate complaint, it is extremely important that you make use of resources like the EEOC’s website, or contact a lawyer like us to ask for information about what to do, even if you choose not to act on it at that time. Failing to act in many states leaves you high and dry, without any other protection, because either there is no state statute, or in more conservative jurisdictions like Texas, for example, the states only adopt the same 180-day rule as Title VII.
Paying attention to the EEOC deadlines is an important issue because an employee may have a very strong legal claim but if they do not act within a certain period of time, or get the information to act within a certain period of time, their claim may be completely barred leaving you with no avenue for justice.
James A. Vagnini
Partner
email: jvagnini@vkvlawyers.com
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Employment Discrimination-Know Your Rights

Discrimination in the workplace may be difficult to define but when it occurs, you should be aware and ready to take action. Under no circumstance is employment discrimination okay. It is important to know what qualifies as unfair and what factors you should consider before filing a lawsuit against an employer. Understanding employment discrimination in the workplace is vital when it comes to knowing what you must do if it ever happens to you.
So What Exactly is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination occurs when a job seeker or an employee is treated unfavorably or unfairly because of his/her race, skin color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, genetic information etc. Workplace discrimination also extends beyond hiring and firing, for example, suggesting preferred candidates in a job ad, denying certain employees benefits or compensation, and discrimination while issuing promotions and lay-offs. There are many more different forms of employment discrimination and laws to protect employees. Listed below are some of the most common cases:
Racial Discrimination – Racial Discrimination takes place when a potential employee, employee or a group of employees are treated differently or unfairly based on their race or because of characteristics associated with race including facial features, hair, or color of their skin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination based on race as well as color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Age Discrimination – Age Discrimination comes about when an employee is treated in an unfair manner because of their age, for example, being treated poorly because you are ‘too old’. The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees who are 40 years old and older. In addition, under the NYHRL, Section 3-a, it states that it is unlawful for any employer to refuse employment or compensation to any person 18 years old and older because of their age.
Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Hostile Workplace Discrimination

  • Equal Pay-Gender discrimination includes sexual discrimination and/or sex-based discrimination. This occurs when any employer treats an employee in an unfair way or inequitable manner based merely on gender. This includes equal pay for men and women which is federally protected under the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
  • Sexual Orientation-Sexual Orientation discrimination also falls under this category when being homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or trans gendered impacts the way you are treated in the workplace or during the recruiting process. This kind of discrimination is protected under the Civil Rights Act and would be further be protected in a bill that is still awaiting passage by congress called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
  • Sex/Hostile Work Environment– Also protected under the Civil Rights Act, Sex/Hostile Work Environment is discrimination based in a sexual hostile environment. The “hostile environment” law also applies to harassment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability.

National Origin & Religion Discrimination – Our country is widely mixed with people from different parts around the globe. National Origin discrimination occurs when an employee is ignored and/or treated poorly because of his or her accent, nationality, or ethnicity. Companies are required to fairly accommodate an employee’s religious and cultural beliefs as long as they don’t negatively interfere with the workplace environment. This act of discrimination is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Disability Discrimination- The Disability Discrimination Act focuses on the specific needs of the blind, partially blind, physically or mentally handicapped or people with disabilities. Disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as a physical or mental impairment that considerably limits a major life activity. Discrimination includes denying employment opportunities to people who are disabled but qualify for the position or not accommodating the known physical/mental limitations of disabled employees
Pregnancy Discrimination-There are laws that protect pregnant women and people with disabilities under the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions. Additional rights are available to women and others under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor.
If you feel you may be a victim of employment discrimination, let us help you protect your rights. Call the Law Offices of Valli, Kane & Vagnini today for a free consultation.

Will Obama End Employment Discrimination?

President Obama seems to hold the key which unlocked the door to his victory. What is the key to his success you ask? Simply addressing long lasting social issues. Close to two times as many women than men find concerns like same-sex marriage, abortion, and Employment Discrimination as the most important issues that determined their vote, based on recently reported polling information.
When it comes to discrimination in the workplace, Presidents over the years have issued orders to protect workers against it. In 1941 President Roosevelt issued an order that prevented discrimination against any worker because of their race, creed and national origin. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was released two decades later, which outlaws employment discrimination based on  religion, sex and race. Since Obama has been in office, he has addressed issues of employment discrimination and in 2011 he agreed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He abolished “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and openly supports the gay community and same sex marriage. That’s great for Obama, but what about the rest of the country? As it stands today, 21 states have outlawed sexual-orientation discrimination, while 16 also forbid gender-identity discrimination, and many cities and counties have similar nondiscrimination laws. But only about half of the population of the United States lives in places with such laws, which leaves millions of workers undefendable against discrimination.
Who is being Discriminated Against?
Nowadays, even though the world has widely accepted individuality and self expression, discrimination against women in the workplace still occurs. It is also distributed amongst lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. A recent research study found that in the last five years, 27% of lesbian, gay or bisexual people had been harassed at work or lost a job because of their sexual orientation. In addition to that, half of transgender people had experienced discrimination in hiring, promotion or job retention. Discrimination can also be found in their paychecks. Studies also show that they earn less than heterosexual men with the same qualifications. Pay discrimination can also be found with women who, despite holding the same positions as men, are receiving less pay than men for doing the same job. Even though studies also show that there are more women attending colleges than men, women are still given less of a chance at flourishing financially in comparison to men in the workplace.
What Can Be Done?
There is currently a Democratic bill that has long been sitting in Congress, which Obama supports, called the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to show that any salary differences between men and women doing the same job are not gender-related. The bill also would have prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers. The bill never passed because it could not gain the support of the Republican party.