You just found out that a man who works in your office, doing the same job as you, was hired at a higher salary than you are making. Or, perhaps you were a candidate for a promotion but the job went to a man you know is less qualified. You’re pretty sure these actions are discriminatory and wrong, but do they amount to a violation of your civil rights? They could, but only if what happened involved one of the rights protected by federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.
Civil Rights Laws
Quite simply, civil rights laws are meant to ensure that everyone in the United States should be treated equally and should be spared discrimination and unfair treatment because of their race, age, sex -- including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions -- disability, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination in companies with 15 or more employees.
How Laws Work
You don’t have a legal right to a promotion. However, as a female employee, you are legally entitled to be considered without regard for your gender. Under the law, an employer is not allowed to refuse to hire an applicant, and not permitted to fire an employee, simply because of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, disability, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. It is also illegal to discriminate against any employee when it comes to pay and other privileges of employment, including promotions or training programs, only because she is in a category protected by law. It isn’t illegal for an employer to award salary increases according to merit or seniority, as long as those standards are not based on discrimination against a protected group.
What To Do
You should document in writing the violation that you have experienced. Once you determine that your civil rights have been violated -- such as only men getting promotions -- the next step would be to approach your employer with your complaint. In the case of a salary discrepancy, for example, the boss should be given the chance to explain why the male co-worker is paid more. Any answer that sounds like “Because he is a man,” or “He has a family to support,” or “You’ll probably leave to start a family” can be grounds for a complaint.
See an Attorney
To verify that you have a civil rights violation and learn how you should proceed, you should contact an attorney who specializes in employment or civil rights and discrimination law. State laws vary, and an attorney can guide you through your state's proper procedures.
Fiile a Complaint
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles discrimination complaints. It is up to the agency to decide what, if any, action to take. You must file a complaint before you can go to court on your own, and you have only 180 days after the offense to register your complaint. Once you have filed a complaint, the agency can investigate. Depending on how the EEOC complaint is resolved, the agency may give you the go-ahead to file a lawsuit in court.
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.