Help is Only a Heartbeat Away logo with McPhillips Shinbaum Attorneys

Understanding Employment Discrimination in the Alabama Workplace

At one time or another, most people feel they are treated unfairly at work. As an at will state, Alabama employers can terminate your employment for many reasons, but not for reasons defined under state and federal law as discriminatory.

Understanding something about those reasons is important if you suspect discrimination at work. In the United States, employers cannot discriminate against you for the following reasons:

  • Age (over 40 years of age)
  • Disability
  • Gender including pregnancy
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Genetic background

Alabama state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age and broad protection is provided by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC offers protection to individuals already employed or those who believe they were discriminated against during the hiring process.

Prohibited treatment under federal law includes:

  • Discrimination or harassment based on defined, protected factors
  • Denial of adjustment or accommodation in your workplace due to religious belief or disability
  • Retaliation because you filed a complaint, were involved in a lawsuit or aided an investigation of your employer for alleged wrongdoing or discrimination

You generally have 180 days from the date of discrimination to file a complaint. Speaking with an employment lawyer is a good idea prior to filing a complaint if you wonder whether treatment by your employer is discriminatory. A business must employ at least 15 people for 20 calendar weeks to fall under the authority of the EEOC. An attorney can advise you about this coverage, and provide information about the evidence and documentation needed to help support your case.

Everyday complaints at work are commonplace, but discrimination should not be. If you have questions about the difference, speak to an attorney at our firm.

Help is Only a Heartbeat Away logo with McPhillips Shinbaum Attorneys

Your Protection Against Disability Discrimination

Bill Thomas was general manager at Birmingham sports-talk radio station WJOX-FM when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was dismissed from his job just six days after informing his superiors, although he felt able to continue working as usual.

Mr. Thomas is suing the owner of the radio station, Cumulus Media, for wrongful termination in federal court. He seeks reinstatement into his position, back pay from when he was fired, legal fees and other damages.

What are my rights if my employer discriminates against me?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee or candidate for employment on the basis of his or her disability when making decisions concerning promotion, hiring, pay, dismissal or other issues. Under federal law, you could be defined as having a disability for:

  • A mental or physical impairment that hinders your everyday functions substantially, such as walking, eating, seeing, speaking, lifting or working
  • A record of having such an impairment
  • Being someone perceived as having such an impairment

Mr. Thomas’ bosses seemed to terminate his employment because of their perception that his medical condition would limit his ability to carry out his work duties. If so, this would constitute a breach of federal discrimination laws. An employer may have a defense in certain situations, such as if your disability stems from an infectious disease that presents a health risk to others.

What compensation can I get from my employer?

If your employer has breached its duty not to discriminate against you for your disability, you can sue for compensatory and punitive damages. You are entitled to punitive damages if you can demonstrate that your employer was malicious or recklessly indifferent to your rights in discriminating against you for your disability. You have the right to request trial by jury, in which case there is no limit on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can be awarded.

If you believe you are facing discrimination at work due to a disability, get in touch with a renowned Alabama employment rights lawyer to discuss your case.

Help is Only a Heartbeat Away logo with McPhillips Shinbaum Attorneys

Not Too Old to Work — Proving Age Discrimination

A recent decision by a federal appeals court highlights the process of proving an age discrimination case in Alabama.

In early 2008, 71-year-old Solomon Sims was hired as a supervisor in a company that organized transport and custody for the federal prison service. Eight months later, one of the vice presidents of his company instructed Sims’ immediate superior to fire two supervisors in a reduction in force, or RIF. Perkins analyzed the reports and the performance data of the supervisors. He asked all of the supervisors whom they thought should be fired. Unanimously, they chose Sims. When Perkins told Sims he would be laid off, he offered him a different job in the company, which Sims refused. At a certain point in their conversation, they discussed Sims’ and Perkins’ relative ages — Perkins was surprised that he was ten years younger than Sims.

Sims sued in federal court under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, but when the federal court in Atlanta ruled against him, he took his case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the federal appeals court for Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

The court ruled against Sims, and in doing so, emphasized important rules relating to proving age discrimination that apply to lawsuits brought in Alabama.

Bringing direct evidence is the most effective way to prove an age discrimination case. If the employer says, “We just can’t stand having old people like you around here, here’s your pink slip,” there is not much need for circumstantial evidence. Very few age discrimination cases are so clear cut, however, and most rely on circumstantial evidence.

In a case with only circumstantial evidence, there are three stages to proving age discrimination:

  • The plaintiff must make a prima facie or first-blush case that the employer discriminated against the plaintiff because of age
  • The defendant, to protect the company, must state a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the challenged employment action.”
  • The plaintiff has an opportunity to show why the defendant’s legitimate reason is in fact not legitimate, but a cover-up for age discrimination.

In Sims’ case, the court found that the defendant showed legitimate reasons to lay Sims off. These included the need to save money on Sims’ work project and Sims’ poor performance compared to the other supervisors. There was also little or no evidence that these legitimate reasons were any type of cover-up for age discrimination. Indeed, Sims’ superior made his decision to fire Sims thinking that he, not Sims, was the oldest person in the company. Further, Sims was offered a different job.

Age discrimination cases are often very tricky to pursue. Defendants are rarely forthcoming with their intentions. Proving their reasons for employment discrimination requires a great deal of preparation and strategy. If your employer has discriminated against you, contact us for a review of your case to see how we can help you achieve justice.

Help is Only a Heartbeat Away logo with McPhillips Shinbaum Attorneys

Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

Getting fired is one of life’s most stressful experiences, especially when the firing is unjustified.  Although employment relationships in Alabama are at-will — employees may quit at any time and employers may lay off employees without reason — the law does not permit an employer to fire employees under certain circumstances:

  • Discrimination. Federal and state anti-discrimination laws prohibit an employer from firing someone on the basis of race, nationality, religion, sex – including pregnancy, color, age or disability.
  • Breach of contract.  An employer may not breach an employment contract or agreement, including an employer-union collective bargaining agreement. For example, last month a prison doctor under contract with the State of California — who had reduced his private practice to accommodate the growing inmate population and was abruptly fired from the prison without explanation — won a wrongful termination lawsuit and was awarded $3.3 million.
  • Violation of employer’s discharge policy. Where an employee handbook, company policy manual, or other similar document outlines job termination procedures, those procedures must be followed.
  • Retaliation.  Your employer cannot fire you for rejecting sexual advances, refusing to do something illegal, reporting (whistle blowing) the company’s illegal activities to the authorities, filing a complaint against employers for discrimination, or other claim for compensation. For example, this past October a court awarded an academic whistle-blower $819,000 after the University of Virginia fired him for reporting that his mentor had misappropriated grant funds.

Although difficult to prove, you may have a claim for constructive discharge if you felt pressured to resign because your employer made your working conditions so intolerable that any reasonable employee would also have quit under the same circumstances.

If you are having difficulties at work, it may be beneficial for you to consult with an employment law attorney to help you fully understand your rights. If you are fired, a lawyer can determine if your employer followed proper termination and post-employment procedures and assures your employer provides you with the best possible severance package.

If a violation has taken place, your lawyer can assist you with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Our office specializes in employment law and is at your service. Call our office today for a consultation.