Colianni & Colianni, LLC

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Pittsburgh Wrongful Termination LawyerNobody should have to face discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, far too many employees are subject to harassment and other forms of discrimination based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors. Some of the most serious discrimination cases involve wrongful termination. When an employee is terminated from their job for illegal reasons, their loss of income can cause a great deal of financial difficulty, as well as significant emotional distress. Workers who have been wrongfully terminated will need to understand how they can take legal action against their former employer and address this issue.

Illegal Reasons for the Termination of an Employee

As is true throughout most of the U.S., Pennsylvania is an “at-will employment” state. If an employee does not have a contract or other provisions stating otherwise, either they or their employer may choose to end their employment at any time and for any valid reason. While a person may be fired because of poor job performance, or they may be laid off because an employer has encountered financial difficulties and is no longer able to pay their wages, there are a number of cases when a termination may be illegal. These include:

  • Discrimination - An employee cannot be terminated because of their race, gender, religion, or age. A person cannot be fired because they have a disability or because of pregnancy or marital status. 

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Wexford religious discrimination lawyerThe EEOC processed 20% more religious employment discrimination cases in 2017 than 2007, while total discrimination cases rose just 2% over the same 10-year period. As a result, employers have become more cautious in their handling of religion-based requests for accommodations and exceptions to long-standing workplace policies. Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. 

Workplace Policies With Disparate Impact Based on Religion

Religious employment discrimination cases often involve workplace policies that have a disparate adverse impact on people of a particular religion. For example, suppose an employer requires workers to be able to work any day of the week. That policy would have a disparate impact on people whose religion prohibits working on a holy day. Similarly, a workplace policy that requires workers to be clean-shaven and to wear a uniform consisting of shorts and a short-sleeved shirt can have a disparate impact on men whose religion requires them to wear a beard and women whose religion requires modest dress.

Employer Accommodations Required for Religious Reasons

Suppose a retail chain requires staff to be available to work on weekends, their busiest time. The hiring manager, Bob, interviews a candidate named Sarah. During the interview, Bob explains the job requirements. Sarah asks that she not be scheduled to work from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening due to her religion. 

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Allegheny County work discrimination lawyer disparate impact“Disparate impact” by race means that an employment policy has a greater negative impact on people of a particular race, even if the employer did not intend the policy to be discriminatory and even if the policy does not appear obviously discriminatory on its face. You can file a claim for financial compensation if you have been terminated from your job or otherwise suffered race-based employment discrimination as the result of a workplace policy with disparate impact. 

Requirements to Claim Racial Discrimination By Disparate Impact 

In order to make a valid disparate-impact claim against an employer, several conditions must be met. First, you must have personally suffered harm as a result of the policy, such as being fired because you violated the policy.

Second, according to current court rulings, the basis of racial discrimination must be an unchangeable condition of your race, such as skin color or a medical condition that has been scientifically linked to your race. “Cultural expressions” of your race such as hairstyles and styles of dress do not currently qualify as race-based discrimination, although this could change in the future, because religious expressions have already been granted legal protection.

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Allegheny County work discrimination attorneyRacial discrimination in the workplace does not have to involve open hostility, derogatory remarks, and intentional acts in order to support a claim for damages. In fact, many cases have been won where an employer’s race-based discrimination was subtle and even unintentional. 

When racial discrimination occurs in a more subtle fashion, you may not even be sure whether you have a valid claim. Even after you file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and their investigation reveals some evidence of discriminatory practices, there is no guarantee that the EEOC will decide to prosecute your case. In such cases, you may need to engage a private attorney to help you collect damages.

What Are Some Signs of Subtle Racial Discrimination?

A supervisor or hiring manager may never utter a word against people of another race or intentionally make discriminatory decisions about hiring, promotion, or termination. However, they may still be perpetuating discriminatory practices.

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Allegheny County workplace discrimination lawyer EEOC claimWhen you file a workplace discrimination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this organization will investigate your complaint to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support your claim. If so, the EEOC will file charges against the employer and attempt to settle the case through its conciliation process. 

If the employer refuses to settle your case through conciliation, only then will the EEOC consider filing a federal court lawsuit against that employer. However, the EEOC is not required to pursue your case in court. In fact, the EEOC only pursues litigation in a small percentage of the cases where it finds sufficient evidence of discrimination and fails to resolve the case through conciliation. In making this determination, the EEOC considers factors such as the seriousness of the violation, the specific legal issues involved, and the extent to which a court ruling on the case would advance the agency’s wider efforts to reduce and prevent workplace discrimination. 

The Benefits of Engaging a Private Attorney for Your Pittsburgh Workplace Discrimination Case

You will find it valuable to consult a private attorney about your case even before you file a workplace discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC or the corresponding state agency, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). 

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