Preserving Your Rights in an Employment Discrimination Case

If you believe you may have been subjected to illegal employment discrimination, you may have a legal case against your employer. Learn about the law and be aware of what may help or hurt your case.

Have you been subjected to disciplinary action and/or terminated by your employer because of your pregnancy, race, gender, age or disability? Are you being treated differently than other employees of a different religion, or ethnicity? Are you the subject of unwanted sexual advances? Does your work environment make you uncomfortable due to inappropriate comments, jokes, email messages or behavior?

If so, you may have an employment discrimination or wrongful termination claim against your employer and/or co-workers. The following steps will help you preserve your legal rights under New York state and federal law.

1. Know Your Rights

Your employer is not permitted to make any employment decisions including: hiring, firing, promotion or job assignments on the basis of your race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age (if you are at least 40 years old) disability, or genetic information. In addition, your employer is not permitted to retaliate against you by terminating or disciplining you for objecting to discriminatory behavior.

2. Use Your Employer's Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy

If your employer has a policy prohibiting harassment or discrimination, read it and become familiar with the reporting process. Be sure to utilize the reporting process set out in the policy. If your employer does not have such a policy, complain to the HR department. If others who have followed the process have not had their issues addressed, make sure to tell your attorney.

3. Review Your Personnel Record

It is your right to review and know what is in your personnel file. Familiarize yourself with its contents and write down anything that looks improper or suspicious. Make a list of everything in your file, so you will know if anything is added improperly later. Your personnel file should not contain any "write ups", "employee actions," or notes that you have not seen.

If there are any actions or comments in your personnel file that you haven't seen before, you should immediately object, in writing.  

4. Take Notes

It is a good idea to keep daily notes of any discriminatory or hostile acts you are facing at work. Print out all email messages and keep copies of all correspondence that support your belief that you are being treated differently or that your work environment is hostile.

Be sure to keep these notes in a safe place at all times. Do not keep these notes or items at work. Be sure to take them home with you every night. Also, do not create these notes while you are working. Your journal or notebook should be updated only during breaks, lunch time, or at a time outside of your shift.

Don't take anything you are not entitled to have, such as confidential information or company property. This may hurt your case later.  

5. Make Your Objections Known

Too often, those who are subject to a hostile work environment or discriminatory behavior will keep silent until they are disciplined or terminated. However, in some instances, this might negatively affect your case. Although making a complaint will not guarantee that the negative treatment will stop (in some cases it may even get worse), by complaining you are placing your company on notice that the behavior is taking place and that you are objecting to it. If you have concerns about making a complaint, contact an attorney.

6. Do Not Wait

The law only allows you a certain amount of time to file your claim. If you believe that the actions being taken against you are discriminatory, seek legal advice about how to proceed.

7. Keep Your Disciplinary Record Clean

It is always important to be in strict compliance with your company's employee conduct policies. However, if you are being targeted, it becomes even more important to assure that you are in compliance with every rule and procedure.

If your employer or supervisor is looking for an excuse to terminate or discipline you, make it very difficult for them to do so legitimately. Having a disciplinary record won't necessarily hurt your case (especially if you believe you were targeted for discriminatory reasons), but the best case scenario is to have a solid history of good performance and conduct. That way, you won't give your employer any excuses to hide behind.  

If you are being improperly disciplined, "grieve" the action or respond to the accusation in writing.  

8. Fulfill All Your Duties and Responsibilities

Make sure you are fully aware of your employer's expectations. The duties and responsibilities of your position should be clearly articulated to you in writing. If these duties change, then the writing should be updated. Your evaluations should include only matters that are part of your duties and responsibilities. You should object to unfair or improper evaluations, in writing.

You should have a clear understanding of how your employer believes you performed; and what is necessary to meet and exceed their expectations.

9. Pay Attention

Be aware of warning signs that your job is in jeopardy. This includes, but is not limited to, decreased job duties, frequent write ups, being left out of department meetings and emails, and difficulty getting approval for time-off.

10. Seek Legal Advice

An attorney can help you decide how to handle workplace issues as they come up, in a way that best protects your rights and interests. An attorney can also keep track of important deadlines, so you don't miss the opportunity to file a charge of discrimination and/or a lawsuit. If you are facing workplace discrimination and harassment, it can really help to have someone on your side, making sure that you take all the right steps on your own behalf.

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