Federal and state civil rights laws were enacted to protect certain groups of people who have historically been the victims of discrimination in employment. It is a violation of both federal and state law for an employer, defined as a business that employs 15 or more employees, to discriminate in employment against an individual based upon race, color, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status or handicap (handicap includes mental or physical disability, and HIV status). Employers with fewer than 15 employees generally do not fall under the state and federal statutes prohibiting discrimination, although their discriminatory actions may give rise to other actions such as workers' compensation, battery, or intentional infliction of emotional distress or may give rise to claims under the Equal Pay Act. City or county governments may also have regulations or ordinances which impact employers with fewer than 15 employees within the city or county.
The failure to hire or promote, oppressive working conditions such as harassment, disparate treatment and discharge, or firing may be considered discriminatory acts if the motivation behind the action is based upon the individual being a member of one of the protected classes or categories. If the adverse action is based upon an inability of the person to perform the essential functions of the job, or legitimate business reasons such as reorganization or work force reduction, then the employer's action will not be considered discriminatory unless the action is unfairly directed toward members of a protected group.
The remedies available under these statutory schemes to stop discrimination are intended to place the victims of discrimination in the position they would have been in had the discrimination not occurred. The remedies available include job reinstatement, injunctions that remove discriminatory conditions, back pay, front pay costs, and attorneys fees. Under recent civil rights statutory enactments, punitive damages are possible, as well as damages for emotional distress.
Before there is a right to file a lawsuit to remedy an illegal act of employment discrimination, it is necessary that the injured person file a charge of discrimination with either the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Please contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 or the Florida Commission on Human Relations at 1-800-342-8170 for further information on their filing requirements and procedures.
After filing the charge of discrimination with these agencies, the agency will investigate the charge and will advise you of your rights under these acts including the right to file a civil lawsuit. Civil actions must be brought under the law based on strict time frames. This area of law is extremely complex; you should also seek the advice of an attorney who is experienced in these matters in order to be certain that your rights are not lost. The court, in its discretion, may allow a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party if your lawsuit is successful. This means that it is possible your attorney could be compensated by your employer if the employer loses the case.
Source: The Florida Bar