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Civil Rights Discrimination / Retaliation


Federal and state laws prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee in the terms, conditions, and/or privileges of employment for any of the following reasons: the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, disability (unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the employment), or the employee’s refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test. An employer may not fail or refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for the known disability of an otherwise qualified employee. An employer also may not request or require genetic tests or genetic information as a condition of hiring or determining benefits.

Depending on the circumstances, federal law, state (or District of Columbia) law, and/or the local law of a county or city, may protect a worker who has suffered unlawful employment-related conduct. Some examples of particular discrimination laws include:

Title VII. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., prohibits an employer from discriminating in hiring, firing, or pay based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits sexual harassment. As the United States Supreme Court has stated, “It is... the purpose of Title VII to make persons whole for injuries suffered on account of unlawful employment discrimination... [W]here federally protected rights have been invaded, it has been the rule from the beginning that courts will be alert to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief.” Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 418 (1975).

Pregnancy Discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) prohibits job discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). An employer cannot deny a job or promotion merely because an employee is pregnant. The pregnant employee cannot be fired for her condition or forced to go on leave.  In 1978, the U.S. Congress enacted the PDA, the first clause of which specifies that Title VII’s term ‘because of sex’ includes because of (or on the basis of) pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PDA’s second clause states that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work (see Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1338, 1344-45 (2015)).

Age Discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) prohibits an employer from unlawfully discriminating against applicants or employees older than 40 because of their age. The ADEA applies to both private sector (29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.) and federal government employment (29 U.S.C. § 633a). “[T]he ADEA’s sweeping mandate broadly prohibits arbitrary discrimination in the workplace based on age.” Miller v. Clinton, 687 F.3d 1332, 1336 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

Disability Discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (the “ADA”), prohibits various disability-related discrimination / harassment, including job discrimination against a qualified person with a disability (i.e., those who can perform the job’s essential functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation). “The ADA was passed by large majorities in both Houses of Congress after decades of deliberation and investigation into the need for comprehensive legislation to address discrimination against persons with disabilities... [T]he ADA is designed ‘to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities...’ It forbids discrimination against persons with disabilities in three major areas of public life: employment, which is covered by Title I of the statute; public services, programs, and activities, which are the subject of Title II; and public accommodations, which are covered by Title III.” Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 516-17 (2004). The ADA’s protections include employees “perceived as” being disabled by their employers. Under the ADA, the employer has a legal obligation to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to address a qualified employee’s disability.

Military Leave. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”) makes it illegal to discriminate against employees who volunteer or are called to military duty. When reservists return from active duty tours of less than five years, an employer must reemploy them to their old jobs or to equal jobs. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has stated, “USERRA was enacted, in part, ‘to prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services...’ Accordingly, USERRA provides that ‘[a] person who is a member of ... or has an obligation to perform service in a uniformed service shall not be denied initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership... or obligation...’ USERRA was enacted in 1994 and significantly broadened the protection afforded those in military service by prohibiting discriminatory actions where the employee’s military status is a ‘motivating factor’ in the decision, even if the employee’s military status is not the sole factor in the decision.” Hill v. Michelin N. America, Inc., 252 F.3d 307, 311-12 (4th Cir. 2001).

Maryland FEPA. The Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA,” Maryland Code, § 20-601, et seq., State Government Article) provides protections concurrent to the statutes identified above, but also provides additional legal protections. Under FEPA, Maryland law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

Unlawful Employer Retaliation. As a separate substantive legal protection, the foregoing statutes also provide a worker with a legal claim for an employer engaging in wrongful “retaliation” - for retaliating against a worker who engages in legally protected activity. Examples of such “protected activity” may include making an internal complaint about alleged unlawful discrimination, filing a formal charge with the EEOC, or assisting another in making a complaint, as a few examples. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Burlington N. & S.F.R. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 63 (2006), an anti-retaliation provision seeks to prevent an employer from interfering (through retaliation) with an employee’s efforts to secure or advance enforcement of a discrimination statute’s basic guarantees. The Supreme Court further explained that an employer can unlawfully retaliate against an employee by taking actions not directly related to his or her employment or by causing harm outside the workplace.

Thus, it is important to note that an employer can be held liable for retaliating against a worker other than the victim of alleged discrimination. An employer may not discriminate or retaliate against any of its employees because the employee has: (1) opposed any practice prohibited by certain employment laws; or (2) made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under those laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated the applicable standard for what constitutes unlawful employer retaliation, as follows: a plaintiff must show that a reasonable person would have found the employer’s challenged action “materially adverse,” meaning that it might well have dissuaded a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.

If you have suffered what you believe is (or may be) unlawful employment-related discrimination and/or retaliation, please contact Mallon LLC — your civil rights attorneys — immediately for a no-cost evaluation of your legal rights and the claims you may have. Please note, many employment law claims have shorter time deadlines, by which an employee is required to file, to pursue a claim in Baltimore, MD, Prince George's County, MD, and throughout Maryland and Washington DC. Acting promptly is essential to preserve your civil rights discrimination claims or discrimination lawsuit.