EEO - Discrimination: Alabama
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Author: J. Day Peake III, Phelps Dunbar LLP
- Age discrimination is one area that is specifically protected under state statute. It is important to be aware of how the Alabama law may affect employment practices. See Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
- Age is also protected with regard to apprenticeship and training programs. See Apprenticeship Age Protection.
- Private employers in Alabama may apply a veterans preference in employment. See Veterans Preference.
- Alabama permits a nursing mother to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present See Lactation/Breastfeeding Protections and Accommodations.
Antidiscrimination Law in Alabama
Alabama relies heavily on the well-established federal network of laws protecting discrimination in the workplace. As such, there are only a select few areas of antidiscrimination law that supplement the current federal laws.
Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act
Alabama has its own state law to protect employees from age discrimination. The Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act (AADEA) prohibits an employer from discrimination in employment against a worker forty years of age and over in hiring, job retention, compensation, or other terms or conditions of employment. +Ala. Code § 25-1-21.
The AADEA serves as an additional safety net for Alabama employees who may wish to file a state civil action rather than resort to those remedies traditionally available to them under the federal framework. The Act permits an employee to circumvent the exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement under the federal statute whereby an employee must file an EEOC charge before proceeding with filing a federal lawsuit. Alternatively, an employee may file an EEOC charge and then file a civil lawsuit. The ability to avoid the administrative remedy requirement is perhaps the greatest distinguishing feature between the state and federal provisions.
The AADEA applies to any employer with twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
As a practical matter, an employer should always be cognizant of how its actions may be perceived by an employee. Prior to taking disciplinary actions or proceeding with termination of any employee, but especially for one over the age of forty, it is advisable to ensure that the employment file is well-documented with the reasons for such action. Should an age discrimination claim arise at a later date, the employer will be responsible for demonstrating that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Such reasons should be well-expressed and consistently stated in any potential post-employment paperwork such as an Unemployment Benefits Employer Questionnaire from the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.
Apprenticeship Age Protection
It is an unlawful employment practice in Alabama for an employer, labor organization or joint labor-management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training to discriminate against an individual because of age in admission to, or employment in, any program established to provide apprenticeship or other training. This provision includes on-the-job training programs. +Ala. Code § 25-1-25.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment: (1) requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex; and (2) requires a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state. . See Obergefell v. Hodges, +2015 U.S. LEXIS 4250 (U.S. June 26, 2015). Even though gender identity and sexual orientation are not explicitly recognized as protected classes under federal law, in light of this ruling it is best practice for an employer to review and revise its discrimination policies and provide equal treatment to individuals in same-sex marriages in with regard to leave, benefits, compensation and other terms of employment.
Alabama employers may institute a voluntary veterans preference policy that allows a preference to be applied to honorably discharged veterans over other qualified applicants or employees in hiring, promotion and retention. +2015 Bill Text AL S.B. 269. See Recruiting: Alabama. An employer should be careful in applying any veterans preference policy that the policy does not have an adverse impact on any other protected class.
Lactation/Breastfeeding Protections and Accommodations
By statute, Alabama protects the rights of a nursing mother to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present. +Ala. Code § 22-1-13. As such, an employer is prohibited from creating a policy in violation of this right.
Equal Pay and Wage History Inquiries
Effective September 1, 2019, the Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act (the Act), prohibits wage discrimination based on sex and race and prohibits retaliation against an applicant for employment for refusing to provide wage history.
The Act prohibits an employer from paying an employee a lower wage than it pays to employees of another sex or race for equal work within the same establishment where job performance requires equal skill, effort, education, experience and responsibility and performance under similar working conditions. An employer may base wage differences on:
- A seniority system;
- A merit system;
- A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
- A differential based on any factor other than sex or race.
The Act also prohibits an employer from refusing to interview, hire, promote, or employ an applicant for employment, or retaliating against an applicant for employment because the applicant does not provide wage history. Wage history means the wages paid to an applicant for employment by the applicant's current or former employer.
The term employer includes the state or any of its political subdivisions, including public bodies.
The law requires an employer to adopt recordkeeping requirements established by the Fair Labor Standards Act. See Recordkeeping for Employee Compensation Purposes: Federal.
Enforcement and Penalties
An employee who files an equal pay claim against an employer must plead with particularity (a legal standard traditionally met by alleging the specifics of who, what, when, where and how) and demonstrate the following in the complaint:
- The employee was paid less than someone for equal work despite possessing equal skill, effort, education, experience, and responsibility; and
- The applicable wage schedule at issue was or is not correlated to any conditions permitted by the equal pay provisions of the Act.
An employee who alleges a violation of the law may file suit within two years after the alleged violation occurs.
Any employer who violates the equal pay provision or the wage history provision is liable to the affected employee in an amount equal to the wages, and interest, that the employee is deprived of because of the violation.
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