The Pundzak Law Office has helped numerous employees recover from unlawful workplace discrimination. Lynn Pundzak also has provided advice to employers contemplating adverse employment actions and has defended many employers unjustly accused of discrimination.
Ohio law and federal law prohibit employment discrimination based on age (40 and over), disability, gender, genetic information, pregnancy, citizenship status, national origin, race/color, religion and veteran status. These laws do not protect an employee in one of these protected classes from suffering an adverse employment action. Rather, the laws simply make it illegal for employers to base their employment decisions on these characteristics. In other words, employers may fire (or otherwise take adverse action against) a pregnant employee, a disabled employee, an older employee, etc. However, an employer may not take that adverse action because of that protected characteristic.
Obviously, few supervisors tell employees that they are being disciplined or fired because they belong to one of these protected groups. Discrimination is often subtle, and claims usually are proven by circumstantial evidence. Experienced counsel can help determine if discrimination can be proven.
What is adverse employment action?
This is decided on a case by case basis. The action must be (i) materially adverse (ii) to a reasonable employee or applicant. The Supreme Court of the United States has explained that “materially adverse” means that the harm must be significant. It also explained that the determination must be made objectively, and thus must be measured against how a “reasonable person” would feel or act.
Examples of adverse actions include:
- employment actions such as termination, refusal to hire, and denial of promotion;
- other actions affecting employment such as threats, unjustified negative evaluations, unjustified negative references, or increased surveillance; and
- any other action such as an assault or an unfounded civil or criminal charge that is likely to deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights.
Adverse actions do not include petty slights and annoyances, such as stray negative remarks in an otherwise positive or neutral evaluation, “snubbing” a colleague, or negative comments that are justified by an employee’s poor work performance or history.
In the case of religious discrimination and disability discrimination, it may also be illegal for an employer to deny reasonable accommodations to an employee.
This “hot topic” in employment law is changing rapidly. In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects homosexuals and transgendered persons to the same extent that it protects persons in other protected categories (race, gender, religion, etc.). Click here to see more information about LGBTQ employment rights.
Lynn Pundzak has the experience and knowledge to help both employees and employers deal with these complex legal issues. Call her at 513-564-9999 for help with your unique situation.