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Employment discrimination cases — truth can be stranger than fiction

Employment discrimination cases are not only complicated, they can border on the weird.  For example: A woman who was part of a department for 20 years, was training an employee who had worked there for only three months, and whose co-worker had only three years of experience, was the one chosen to be laid off when the company decided to downsize.  What?

The two co-workers were African-American, the woman who was downsized was white, and the boss was white — yet the court decided this was potentially a case of racial discrimination.  A significant settlement was recovered for the woman who was laid off.

“It turned out the boss stated that she believed she had been black in a former life so she favored African Americans.  She had photos of blacks on her walls, she told co-workers she went to a ‘black church,’ and said that her friends were “mainly black,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “The attorney working on the case, Kevin Wicka, also found what is called a ‘smoking gun’ memo stating the employee who had been cut was a superior worker, which supported the fact she should not have been the one to be cut.”

Employers will use any angle they can to avoid being found guilty of discrimination, according to Wicka, who handles discrimination cases for Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys.  When and where you file the complaint can affect your potential suit, so if you think you have a case it is critical to have the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney from the start.

Successful employment discrimination cases are often based on three different theories:

  • Treating someone differently due to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability or sexual preferences (all considered to be “protected” categories);
  • Harassment, which is a hostile work environment;
  • And retaliation, where the individual has complained about being discriminated against or that someone else is being discriminated against and is then written up, overlooked for promotion or raise, or fired due to his or her actions.

In settlements and court decisions, clients have been awarded back wages, interest on those wages, attorney fees, compensation for emotional distress and for lost retirement benefits.

“There is a lot at stake for an employee who has been discriminated against,” Freedman said.  “That’s why it’s critical to have a capable attorney on your side if you feel you’ve been treated differently than other employees, harassed by a boss or someone else at work, or retaliated against for your support of another employee.