What Is Employment Litigation?
The law pertaining to employer-employee disputes
on April 25, 2022
Updated on January 31, 2023
What Is Employment Litigation?
The law pertaining to employer-employee disputes
Employment disputes are stressful. Workers have either lost their jobs or suffered negative actions at work, such as a cut in pay or demotion. How do you know if you have a valid lawsuit?
Employment litigation is a broad area of law. It involves wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation claims. Contact a seasoned employment litigation lawyer to learn more about your legal rights.
Employment Litigation – What You Need to Know
Employment litigation is a vast area of law involving legal disputes between employees and employers.
Most states have “at-will” employment laws, which give employers the right to terminate a worker for virtually any reason—or no reason at all. However, these laws also place limitations on that right. There are federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on certain protected characteristics.
An attorney can assist you in dealing with your employer, employee, or any administrative agencies.
Most states have “at-will” employment laws, which give employers the right to terminate a worker for virtually any reason—or no reason at all. But there are certain limitations, and you might have a wrongful termination (or wrongful discharge) suit if your employer violates one of the following:
- Employment contract. Contracts should lay out the terms of employment and explain when an employer can terminate the employee. If the employer violates the contract, you can sue.
- Anti-discrimination laws. Laws prohibit employers from terminating people because of their race, sex, religion, or other protected characteristic.
- Whistleblower protections. Employers cannot terminate a worker as retaliation for blowing the whistle on illegal conduct.
- Public policy. Certain public policies prevent firing someone. For example, most states prohibit termination because the employee refused to break the law.
If you suffered wrongful termination, you could typically seek reinstatement to your old job and back pay and lost employee benefits. You might also receive compensatory damages for things like emotional distress.
Employment Discrimination Lawsuits
Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on certain protected characteristics. Under these laws, an employer cannot intentionally discriminate when taking an adverse employment action related to:
- Pay or employee benefits
- Training opportunities
Race is a protected characteristic. An employer cannot consider race when taking a negative employment action. All races are protected against discrimination.
No employer can discriminate based on sex, including pregnancy. Sex discrimination also includes expecting people to conform to certain gender stereotypes, such as how they dress. All genders are protected by sex discrimination.
However, it’s vital to realize that sometimes sex discrimination is acceptable if a particular sex is necessary for the job. For example, a playwright might be casting the role of a father in a play, so they can only consider hiring men. But if a job is gender-neutral, the employer cannot use a person’s sex against them.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In the landmark 2020 case, Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII, the federal civil rights anti-discrimination law, protects sexual orientation and gender identity. Many states have already prohibited this discrimination, but now protection extends nationwide.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents employers from treating employees or applicants negatively because of certain physical or mental disabilities. This disability discrimination law also protects workers who have a close relationship with a disabled person, such as a spouse.
This prohibition applies during job interviews, training, and employment. For example, visually impaired workers might need special training materials created so they can gain the benefit of any training.
Various laws outlaw age discrimination. Under federal law, however, only workers over age 40 are protected. So it is not illegal to discriminate against someone for being too young. Many state laws apply to all workers, even those under 40.
Age discrimination law does not guarantee that employers hire the most experienced applicant. Employers can consider many factors, such as more up-to-date training or skills, which might favor younger workers. As with other forms of discrimination, sometimes a job requires a younger person. A movie producer looking to cast the role of a 12-year-old girl in a film has not committed employment discrimination by refusing to consider 40-year-old actors.
Other Protected Characteristics
Other protected characteristics under federal law include:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Many states offer broader protections than federal laws. Some states, for example, consider the following as protected characteristics:
- Military service
- Marital status
- Political opinion
It is best to consult an experienced employment attorney to review what other characteristics are protected. An attorney can advise you on bringing a lawsuit or filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state agency.
Disparate Impact Discrimination Lawsuits
Not all discrimination claims are based on intentional discrimination. Instead, an employer might have policies or regulations on the books which appear neutral on their face. However, these laws disproportionately affect one protected class of people more than others.
For example, an employer might require that workers be able to lift 75 pounds. This requirement will likely exclude more women than men from consideration and more older workers than younger ones. This disparate impact could make the policy illegal. Nevertheless, a policy that creates a disparate impact is still lawful if job related and consistent with business necessity.
Workplace Harassment Lawsuits
Harassment is a form of workplace discrimination prohibited under state and federal laws. Harassment can focus on any protected characteristic, though most people think of sexual harassment as the most common.
- A worker can bring a lawsuit if harassing conduct creates a hostile workplace:
- Slurs or epithets
- Insulting imagery
How much harassing conduct is too much? It depends. Although one instance of physical assault is probably enough to make a workplace hostile, one joke or slur by itself probably isn’t. However, harassing conduct becomes so cumulative that a worker has a valid harassment lawsuit.
Sexual harassment can be based on a hostile workplace or a quid pro quo where an employer offers a reward (like a promotion) or threatens punishment (like demotion) if the employee doesn’t consent to sexual relations. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, and their harasser can be someone of the same sex.
Sexual harassment might also not be about sexual attraction at all. For example, someone who constantly belittles women as a class, calling them less intelligent than men, creates a hostile workplace even though these comments are not based on attraction.
Reasonable Accommodations: Disability and Religion
Anti-discrimination law requires that employers approve reasonable accommodations so disabled workers can do a job and religious workers can continue to practice their religion. For example, a worker in a wheelchair might need an elevated desk to accommodate their chair. A person who wears headgear for religious reasons might request that an employer create an exception to their “no hats at work” rule.
Employers must grant requests for accommodation unless doing so creates an undue hardship. So an employer does not need to move to a new building so that a disabled employee can work there.
Employers should have an attorney review any request for accommodation because some of them fall into a “gray” area where it is not always clear whether the request is burdensome.
Whistleblowers & Retaliation Lawsuits
Most illegal conduct is brought to light by brave whistleblowers. These individuals refuse to help an employer break a regulation or law, or they blow the whistle on violations by reporting them to government agencies or the media.
Unsurprisingly, many employers retaliate against whistleblowers. They might demote the worker or outright fire them.
Fortunately, many state and federal laws protect whistleblowers. These laws are all a little different, and some protect more whistleblowing activity than others. Employees should meet with an attorney to review their rights.
Common Questions for an Employment Litigation Attorney
If you have lost your job, you should meet with employment lawyers to review your rights. An attorney with experience in labor and employment law can be an invaluable asset while litigating your case. When sitting down for free consultations, consider asking the following:
- How many employment claims have you overseen? In state or federal court?
- Do you only represent employers or former employees?
- Am I entitled to workers’ compensation?
- Do I have a claim if my employer has violated OSHA regulations on workplace safety?
- Can my dispute be resolved in mediation or arbitration?
- Can I participate in an ongoing class action? What if I signed an arbitration agreement?
- Am I still subject to a non-compete if I believe my employer is in breach of contract?
- Can I sue my employer for defamation?
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
To help you find the best lawyers for your needs, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices employment litigation.