At 9,068 charges, Texas employers received almost 10 percent of the nation's federal employment discrimination, harassment and retaliation allegations in FY 2013, according to statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. This is an increase from FY 2012's 8,929 Texas-based charges.
On the other hand, nationally the number of charges trended the other direction, having dropped by roughly 6,000 from FY 2012 to FY 2013, or about 6 percent.
Discrimination broadly defined
Discrimination is not strictly the act of terminating someone's employment because of his or her being a member of a protected class; discrimination reaches many other negative employment actions like failure to hire, demotion, failure to promote, provision of unequal wages or benefits, and more.
Employees who believe they have been victims of employment discrimination in violation of federal law may file charges against their employers with the EEOC, which investigates and, if appropriate, attempts to resolve the matter informally, such as through conciliation or mediation. When settlement is not reached in a given dispute, the agency may choose to file a lawsuit.
The EEOC enforces federal laws against illegal employment discrimination based on certain classifications:
- Sex, including pregnancy
- National origin
- Age, beginning at 40
- Genetic information
Another basis for an EEOC charge is illegal harassment based on one or more of these protected classifications. Harassment is unwanted conduct by others like verbal abuse, intimidation, the display of offensive images and other similar acts that either must be endured as a condition of employment or that create an unreasonably hostile, offensive work environment.
The EEOC also receives charges of illegal employer retaliation against an employee who reported discrimination, pursued legal remedies against discrimination or supported another employee in such a matter.
Texas state civil rights agency
On the state level, Texas has a similar governmental agency. The Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division receives discrimination complaints and investigates those that allege violations of state law. The TWC has an agreement with the EEOC to share complaints. A Texas employee must decide whether to file his or her charge with either the state or federal agency; filing with both is not allowed.
The TWC also uses informal settlement methods like mediation between the employee and employer and in some cases will file lawsuits.
Seek legal counsel for discrimination matters
Employment discrimination laws are extremely complex, alone and in combination. Any Texan who feels he or she has been the victim of illegal discrimination in the workplace should speak with an experienced employment lawyer to understand what federal and state legal remedies are available and the pros and cons of each. The state and federal laws, agencies and courts involved interact in complex ways that are difficult to understand without legal counsel. Anti-discrimination charges also are controlled by short deadlines, another reason to consult a knowledgeable discrimination attorney early on to preserve legal rights.