The Nuts and Bolts of Employment Discrimination

Discrimination is the unjust treatment of different categories of people or things.  In New York State is is illegal to terminate someone’s employment because of his or her race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, military status, arrest/conviction record and predisposing genetic characteristics.  However, because New York is an at will employment state, it may be difficult to prove that there has been discrimination or an illegal reason for the termination.  “At will” means that you can be terminated at any time for any reason and the employer does not need to give a reason for it.  A termination is only illegal if the impetus for the termination stems from one of the factors stated above.

When an individual (complainant) starts a case against a person for discrimination, it is his or her burden to lay out the facts in such a way as to show a trier of fact that there is an actual instance of discrimination.  First the complainant must show that he or she is a member of a protected class.  A class of people is just an other way of saying that you fall under one of the categories mentioned above like age or race.  The complainant then must show that that he or she was qualified to work in the position he or she was terminated from and lastly that the complainant was terminated under circumstances that create an inference of discriminatory conduct.  The employer (defendant) then has the burden to produce evidence that the complainant was terminated for a non discriminatory purpose and that the non discriminatory purpose alone was the reason for the termination.  In order to win the case, the complainant must then show that the defendant’s reason for terminating the complainant was, for lack of a better work, bunk.

If a finding is made in favor of the complainant, monetary awards may be given in the tens of thousands of dollars in the form of back pay. This is called a compensatory award.  Damages, an award for emotional distress, pain and suffering if there is any, can also be ordered.  The complainant can even get his or her job back if that is desired.