What Laws Protect Federal Employees From Discrimination?
Are you a federal employee? Do you think you may have been a victim of discrimination on the job? Then you need an experienced EEO complaint lawyer who can walk you through the steps to file an EEO complaint against the federal government. If you have struggled in a hostile or discriminatory work environment, our knowledgeable attorneys can help explain federal laws governing discrimination and determine whether you have a case.
Our federal employment law team at The Federal Practice Group is well versed in the substantive laws protecting federal employees from discrimination, including disparate treatment, which is when an employer treats an employee differently — e.g., in a promotion selection or with regard to harsher discipline — because of that employee’s membership in a protected class (such as race, sex, or disability), and hostile work environment, which is when an employer, because of an employee’s membership in a protected class, subjects that employee to unwelcome harassment. These federal laws include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of:
- Race/Color/National Origin
- Gender/Sexual Harassment/Pregnancy/Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity
- Retaliation/Reprisal for participation in protected activity
Understanding more about the laws governing discrimination can help you determine whether you should pursue a case against the federal government.
Title VII does not protect employees of only certain classes. It is just as illegal under Title VII for an African-American to not be promoted because of race as it is for a White employee to be promoted because of race, and the same applies to the other protected categories, including sex and national origin. Title VII prohibits employment actions from being based on any protected classes.
In recent years, the EEOC has broadened the protection afforded under Title VII, finding that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination also protects federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The EEOC has also seen a recent increase in national origin discrimination claims, as well as claims based on religion, as there have been increased incidents of discrimination nationwide, including in the federal government, against employees whose national origin is from a Middle Eastern country and/or those who observe the Muslim religion.
Race/Color/National Origin Discrimination
Title VII prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of Race, Color (or skin tone, e.g. dark skin), and National Origin, as well as other categories including sex and religion. While federal employees still face blatant discriminatory acts such as use of the “n-word” or hanging nooses, a single act of which has been to violate the law, more subtle discrimination is now far more common in workplaces, including the federal government.
The Supreme Court has long recognized that unlawful discrimination can stem from stereotypes and other types of cognitive biases, as well as from conscious animus, and more recent cases continue to recognize the validity of claims based on employers’ biased or stereotypical thinking. This unconscious bias is often a factor in non-selection or non-promotion claims, as well as claims of harassment or hostile work environment based on race, color, or national origin. While these claims can be more difficult to prove than claims where direct evidence of discrimination is present, the attorneys at The Federal Practice Group are well versed in pursuing these claims and building a case before the EEOC.
For additional information on Race and Color Discrimination, see the EEOC’s Compliance Manual: https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html
For additional information on National Origin Discrimination, see the EEOC’s Compliance Manual: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/national-origin-guidance.cfm
When is the Agency Required to Provide Reasonable Accommodation?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to accommodate the mental and physical disabilities of disabled federal employees. In some cases, a federal employee may need legal assistance to even establish that he or she is a “qualified individual with a disability” and thus that the agency is required to provide appropriate reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is considered a change, adaptation, or modification in a workplace that is needed for disabled employees to fulfill the duties of their job. Reasonable accommodations may also include changes or modifications to policies which enable all qualified workers to accomplish the tasks that their specific job requires. Requests for reasonable accommodation can include modifications to a work station, wheelchair accessibility, accessible parking, telecommuting, or other similar accommodations. Managers and supervisors are not allowed to discriminate or otherwise ignore reasonable requests from their employees, or to retaliate if you have requested a reasonable accommodation. If you have experienced discrimination or are concerned about your rights when it comes to requests for reasonable accommodation, you need to contact an experienced attorney without delay.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is very similar to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of disability, requires federal agencies to provide Reasonable Accommodations to disabled employees, and prohibits retaliation/reprisal for participation in protected activity.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires both nondiscrimination and affirmative action with respect to disabled federal employees and applicants for federal employment. It specifically provides that the standards used to determine whether a federal agency has discriminated against an individual with a disability “shall be the standards applied under title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. . . as such sections relate to employment.” Additionally, the Section 501’s regulations provide that the federal government “shall be a model employer of individuals with disabilities.”
Recent amendments ADA have made it easier for employees, including federal employees, to establish that they are “disabled employees” or “qualified individuals with a disability” under the law who are entitled to protection and reasonable accommodation. If you need advice or assistance on requesting reasonable accommodation, or if you have been denied a reasonable accommodation, the attorneys at The Federal Practice Group can advise you on what your rights are and what the next steps are to obtain your needed reasonable accommodation so that you can continue to perform successfully in your job or possibly be reassigned to another job that you are able to perform with reasonable accommodation.
The Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires federal agencies to pay male and female federal employees the same for substantially similar work.
As applied to the federal government, the EEOC has held that the federal government’s classification system is not a defense to an Equal Pay Act claim. In other words, if a female employee who is a GS-12 is performing substantially similar work as a male employee who is a GS-13, the federal government cannot hide behind its classification system to justify this difference in pay. It is also illegal for the federal government to downgrade the male employee to GS-12 to correct its violation of the Equal Pay Act.
The relief available to federal employees under the EPA is somewhat different than the relief available under Title VII (for example, compensatory damages are not allowable, but liquidated damages may be available). In some cases, a federal agency might be violating both the EPA and Title VII by failing to pay women and men equally for the same work. The attorneys at The Federal Practice Group can advise you on what you rights may be in your particular circumstance.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of age and prohibits retaliation/reprisal for participation in protected activity.
Unlike for other anti-discrimination statutes, the relief available to federal employees suffering age discrimination may be limited due to specific language Congress included in the statute. Nevertheless, discrimination against federal employees over the age of 40 is illegal, and back pay is available as a remedy, as well as forms of equitable relief.
Do You Need a Reliable and Experienced EEOC Hearing Lawyer?
If you believe you are experiencing discrimination on any of these protected basis, contact The Federal Practice Group for a consultation about your rights, as federal employees have very limited time frames to raise claims of discrimination.
If you are able to prove that your federal agency is violating one of these anti-discrimination statutes, then you may be entitled to relief including compensatory damages, equitable relief — e.g., correction of personnel records, reassignment, restoration of leave — and reimbursement of attorney’s fees.
Common Myths About Federal Employment Debunked!
Myth #1: It is impossible to fire a federal employee.
Truth: Over 10,000 federal employees are typically fired in any given year.
Myth: Federal employees lose their pensions when they are fired.
Truth: Federal employees who are fired keep their service credit and are entitled to receive an annuity unless they have been convicted of certain severe crimes such as espionage or treason.
Myth: Federal employees are paid while they appeal their removals from federal service.
Truth: Federal employees are entitled to 30 days’ notice before an adverse action is taken against them, during which time they are paid. A federal employee only has the right to appeal a removal that has actually been decided and put into effect.