Overview: To prevent and respond to employee discrimination based on protected class status, an employer must have zero-tolerance policy against discrimination and communicate to their workforce that discrimination against any individual based on protected class status will not be tolerated.
Employers should understand that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion and national origin. Among the other federal laws that prohibit discrimination are the Americans with Disabilities Act (disability), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (genetic information) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (age). State laws generally prohibit discrimination against the same classes protected by federal law. However, some state laws go further and consider gender identity/sexual orientation, unemployment status, and marital status to be protected classes.
An employer should implement a policy against discrimination and make sure that all employees and supervisors receive training on the policy. An employer should develop and implement policies and practices that are facially neutral and do not discriminate. Further, employers should establish a multi-channeled complaint system and promptly respond to all discrimination complaints by immediately investigating and if necessary, take corrective measures and impose discipline.
Trends: There is a great deal of movement on the federal and state level to expand the protected classes under equal employment opportunity law. Those protected under discrimination laws have advanced well beyond the traditional protected classes of race, sex, age, and disability to include genetic information, military status, transgender status, individuals with caregiving responsibilities and even unemployment status. As a result, employers can reasonably anticipate a greater number of lawsuits. Further, employers should know that there is also a trend towards class actions and allegations of widespread bias and discrimination by multiple plaintiffs. Employers need to know how to prevent and effectively respond to such claims.
Beth Zoller, J.D., Legal Editor
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Because the trucking industry is a male-dominated industry in which women remain a minority, transportation employers have frequently encountered sex harassment and sex discrimination lawsuits. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) class action sexual harassment claim against CRST Van Expedited, one of the largest interstate trucking companies, failed to take flight, the case and ensuing settlement provide employers with valuable insight into what the EEOC may build a case on.
In Harris v. City of Santa Monica, the California Supreme Court considered a mixed motive discrimination case in which an employer had both lawful and unlawful reasons for terminating an employee. The court ruled that the employer may be held liable if the employee can show that discrimination was a substantial factor motivating an adverse employment action; however, damages may be limited if the employer demonstrates that it would have made the same decision absent the discrimination.
The transportation and trucking industry - which has traditionally employed mostly white males - has long been hit with discrimination claims based on race, sex, disability and other protected classes. A recent jury award demonstrates that companies will pay a hefty price for allowing a racially charged atmosphere and failing to respond to race discrimination and harassment complaints.
HR guidance on how to develop and implement policies to prevent and respond to discrimination claims against protected classes and ensure an equal opportunity workplace.
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