Employment Discrimination Attorney Top Answer: Can I be fired for opposing an English only policy? How do I prove that my boss lied about why he fired me? Do I need a smoking gun to prove my discrimination claim?
Employment discrimination laws prevent employers from denying workers the ability to get a job, maintain a job, advance in their career, work in an environment free from hostility, and earn a fair wage—among many other protections. They are also designed to protect employees who report that an employer has violated the law.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a plaintiff can prove discrimination based on protected class, such as race, national origin or gender, indirectly (i.e., through circumstantial evidence). In an indirect claim, the employee must allege facts sufficient to raise an inference of discriminatory intent that creates a presumption of unlawful conduct – what employment lawyers call the prima facie case. Next, the burden shifts to the defendant employer, who has to offer some legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. And, finally, if the employer offered some reason then the employee can present evidence that the reason is simply not true – what employment lawyers call pretext—which our employment discrimination attorneys have previously blogged about. One way to prove pretext is to show that a similarly situated employee was treated differently.
To prove a retaliation claim an employee has to prove that: (a) he or she is covered under Title VII, or was engaged in a statutorily protected activity (like, say, opposing an English only policy); (b) the employer or boss took an adverse action against the employee (firing , demoting, disciplining); and (c) there’s a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action (e.g., the protected activity and employment action happened close in time to one another). A recent case out of Pennsylvania where an employee was fired for opposing an English only policy demonstrates how this works in real life.
The law provides that English-only, accent, and fluency work policies can only be adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. Thus, employers cannot require fluency in English except if the employer can prove that such fluency is necessary to ensure the effective performance of the specific position. To that end, English-only rules can only be lawfully imposed if needed to promote the safe or efficient operation of the business. The employer must meet a high burden to prove that its language requirements fall within the exception.
Betzaida Abdul-Latif worked for a county employment agency in Pennsylvania as a career advancement program case manager. Abdul-Latif, several other employees, and some clients were of Hispanic background and spoke Spanish while talking with one another. The program requires all participants to speak only English. Abdul-Latif’s supervisor told her and other employees to only speak English with each other and their clients. She also had to put up signs explaining the English only policy.
Abdul-Latif believed the policy was not fair and complained about it to management. Each time she was told to only speak English. Her clients also believed the policy was unjust. So, Abdul-Latif explained that they could go to the County Human Relations Commission and file a complaint. On June 24, 2010 the Commission received three complaints against the Agency and on July 20, 2010, Abdul-Latif was fired. The Agency claimed it fired her because she violated an email work policy.
At this point Abdul-Latif contacted an employment discrimination attorney and filed suit against Lancaster County. She argued the Agency fired her because she is Hispanic and retaliated against her since she opposed the English only policy and told clients they could lodge complaints.
Now, there was a problem with employees violating the email policy. But, oddly enough, three other employees that worked under the same supervisor, in the same building, and violated the exact same policy were not fired. The trial court found that this evidence demonstrated preferable treatment. And, Abdul-Latif may use such evidence to satisfy her prima facie race discrimination case and to prove the County’s email-policy violation excuse was just a pretext—i.e., not the actual reason they fired her.
There was enough evidence to survive the employer’s motion for summary judgment on the unlawful discrimination claim. What about on the retaliation claim? The court held that opposing the English only policy was a protected activity and the closeness in time between when the employer discovered she engaged in the protected activity (June 24) and her discharge (July 20) was enough to prove a causal link.
We have said it before, but it bears repeating here. Some employers will wait to see if they can get the case dismissed by arguing there are no questions of fact and that the case should be decided as a matter of law. Once admissible evidence of pretext is shown, a question of fact is created. In employment discrimination cases this means a jury will get to hear the case. And, an overwhelming majority of employment discrimination cases get settled.
If you have been fired, discriminated against based on your race, national origin, gender, sex, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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