Last year, the number of employment discrimination claims filed in the U.S. hit a record high of 99,922 – an increase of more than seven percent from 2009.
Employment discrimination cases tend to be focused in one of several areas. The most common type of claim alleges retaliation, which occurs when an employer illegally punishes a “whistleblower” employee for filing a complaint internally or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about potential discrimination.
Racial, gender and disability discrimination claims are also frequent sources of employment discrimination lawsuits, as is age discrimination. Religious discrimination, while less common, is still a significant concern, accounting for approximately four percent of claims filed in 2010.
While some observers have speculated that the recent rise in employment discrimination claims may simply be a result of the economic pressures brought on by the recession, others view it as a sign that today’s workers are more informed of their rights and are increasingly willing to assert them. Either way, the rise in discrimination claims may be good news for workers if it motivates employers to adopt more responsible and equitable employment policies.
Under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin – even if the discrimination is unintentional. This means that an employer may be held liable for policies or actions that have the effect of discriminating against certain employees even if that was not the purpose of the policy or act.
As more workers become familiar with their rights and have the courage to stand up for them, employers will ultimately be forced to take a hard look at their business practices and make sure that they are fair in both intent and effect.