Discrimination in the workplace is illegal under both federal and state laws. You have many rights as an employee but, unfortunately, many people aren't aware of those rights and allow themselves to be subjected to discrimination, retaliation and a host of other employer behaviors that are illegal.
However, your rights as an employee allow you to take legal action against a discriminatory employer. Under federal law, employees must first complete an administrative investigation before being allowed to proceed in the court system. Depending upon the size of the company, an employee must either file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (50 or more employees) or its equivalent state agency (less than 50 employees).
Taking these first steps can be done with or without legal counsel. No matter which way you choose to go, it is important to first visit the appropriate employment agency's website to take advantage of the information they provide in deciding whether or not you might have a legal action against the offending employer. The websites will also provide important information regarding the steps you'll need to take in filing your action. If you believe you have a case against your employer, it is highly recommended you speak with an attorney who specializes in the areas of employment law and/or civil rights. A short consultation with a good attorney can be an important gauge in deciding whether it is worth your time to proceed with legal action against an employer.
Many civil rights/employment law attorneys also charge on a contingency fee basis. This means that, after the initial fee for the consultation, you can often have a lawyer take your case for very little cost to yourself. If the attorney wins your case, he or she will keep a certain percentage of the settlement or jury award. That percentage will vary depending on the work involved in litigating your case. Attorneys with appropriate experience in your rights as an employee can be very valuable in negotiating the legal mine field that your employer will construct to defend itself against your legal action.
Once you have completed the administrative process, the agency will issue a finding or it may, if you have a strong case, become actively involved in negotiating a settlement and taking disciplinary action against the employer. In most cases, the agency will issue a finding and give you a document called a Notice of Right to Sue. It is very important to read this document when you receive it, as it sets a deadline for when you must file a lawsuit against your employer. If you fail to meet that deadline, you will forever lose your right to take legal action against the company that has discriminated against you. If you have gotten this far without an attorney, it is extremely important that you seek legal counsel at this point. The court system is a confusing and many times overwhelming place and a person can easily lose their case simply because they don't have the proper knowledge.
Taking legal action against an employer when you believe your rights as an employee have been violated is usually a long and often frustrating process that can take several years. However, if you believe you are being discriminated against or retaliated against, it is important to research your options by visiting the appropriate website or consulting with an attorney. Your civil rights are one the most important values that all citizens are entitled to. If you are successful in taking action against your employer, not only will you be compensated for the treatment you have been subjected to, you will likely spare others from being subjected to the same behavior in the future.