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Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my boss give me more work than everyone else because I’m Black? Can I sue my boss for giving me the worst office because I’m Hispanic? Can I sue my manager only gives new computers to the men in my department?

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Our discrimination lawyers often hear from employees facing a multitude of problems at work: bad attitudes, personality conflicts, undeserved and unfair discipline, and just general feelings that the boss is being unfair. Just about anywhere you look, there is no shortage of complaints about work. But when does it become illegal so that you have a viable claim for wrongful termination?

The truth is, employers are allowed to be unfair, to be arbitrary, and to be wrong. “At-will” employment means that you can be falsely accused of something you didn’t do and fired, or that you can be fired for no reason at all. (See What Is Wrongful Termination In Violation Of Public Policy?) If your boss suddenly decides he doesn’t like people whose names begin with the letter “T,” Todd, Tina, and Timothy are in trouble. They could lose their jobs, and there would be nothing they could do about it.

However, employers can’t just do whatever they feel like. Our letter “T” hating boss couldn’t fire Todd because he had filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits or because he is over age 40, or fire Tina because she was pregnant or wouldn’t submit to his sexual advances. Likewise, the boss can’t fire Timothy because he is African American, or disabled, or because of his religion. If an employee’s race, national origin, gender, religion, disability, age, pregnancy, or participation in protected activity, such as opposing or reporting discrimination, whistleblowing, taking FMLA leave, making protected complaints about overtime or the minimum wage, or filing a claim for workers compensation benefits is why the termination actually occurred, then it is unlawful. Why because there are specific laws that address these situations, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“), the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA“), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA“) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA“).

I was fired today because I complained about race discrimination. My boss will not promote me because I’m a woman. My manager gives all the hard jobs to the Hispanic and Arab workers. Can I be discriminated against because I’m Arab?

Thus, it is accurate to say that most discrimination cases come down to proving “the why” – that is, proving what motivated the employer to act unfairly.

But do you have to be fired to have a discrimination claim? No, you don’t. It is illegal for an employer to take any “adverse action” against you because of an unlawful consideration. Thus, any material change to the terms and conditions of one’s employment is enough. But what does that mean? A change is “material” when it rises to a level that is worse than a mere inconvenience or annoyance.

In the recent case of Vega v. Hempstead Union Free School Dist, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals provided a helpful analysis of what is an adverse action, and what is not. There, the employee, Carlos Vega, alleged a number of grievances against the school district where he taught for adverse employment actions that he contended were motivated by his race (Hispanic) and national origin (Puerto Rican) . The Court did a great job summing these allegations up:

  • Beginning in 2008, Vega was assigned an “increased percentage of students that were Spanish speaking and were not fluent in English,” requiring Vega to do “twice as much work” in preparing and teaching his classes first in English and then in Spanish, without extra compensation.
  • When he complained later in 2008, Vega was assigned “a mixture of bilingual classes and English classes, instead of all bilingual,” and he was still not compensated for the extra preparation time.
  • When he complained later in 2008, Vega was assigned “a mixture of bilingual classes and English classes, instead of all bilingual,” and he was still not compensated for the extra preparation time.
  • Vega was unable to use his regular classroom for his first period class in October 2010 and had to teach in the “excessively noisy” media center without a blackboard.
  • Vega was assigned a classroom with a “University of Puerto Rico” banner above the door.
  • Vega attempted to enter his students’ grades into the school’s computer system in October 2011, but his password had been deactivated. Vega had to use his non-Hispanic colleague’s password to log into the computer system to enter his grades.
  • The District twice attempted to transfer Vega out of the High School… First, on June 24, 2011, Davidson attempted to transfer Vega to the District’s middle school. On July 11, 2011, Vega objected to Davidson’s proposed transfer and told the Assistant Superintendent that he should not be transferred because he had a better percentage of passing students than most of his co-workers. On September 21, 2001, the District rescinded the transfer and Vega continued teaching at the High School. Second, on June 18, 2012, Vega received a letter from the District approving his transfer to the Academy of Math and Sciences—whose principal is Hispanic—even though he had never requested this transfer. Vega was never transferred.

At the trial court level, the school district had filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings – which means that the school tried to have the case thrown out as soon as it was filed by arguing that even if Vega’s allegations were true, it wasn’t enough to establish discrimination. The trial court agreed, and dismissed Vega’s employment discrimination case.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that most of Vega’s allegations could not support a claim of discrimination standing alone, because with the exception of one allegation – that Vega had been given extra work – none of his other allegations constituted an adverse action. However, the Court found that this one adverse action was enough, and that Vega’s other complaints provided context which supported his claims:

Vega has plausibly alleged that his assignment to classes with increased numbers of Spanish-speaking students was an “adverse employment action” taken “because of” his Hispanic ethnicity. First, Vega alleges that he was forced to spend disproportionately more time preparing for his classes and therefore experienced a material increase in his responsibilities without additional compensation. He contends that these assignments required him to do “twice as much work” and that he was assigned class preparations on a basis that exceed “District policy.” App. at 11. We have previously held that the assignment of “an excessive workload” as a result of “discriminatory intent,” Feingold, 366 F.3d at 153, can be an adverse employment action because it is “more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities,” Terry, 336 F.3d at 138 (internal quotation marks omitted). Vega has thus plausibly alleged an adverse employment action.

Second, Vega has also plausibly alleged that the adverse action was taken “because of” his Hispanic ethnicity, that is, that his Hispanic ethnicity was a motivating factor in the employment decisions. He contends that he was assigned a large percentage of Spanish-speaking students because he is Hispanic and bilingual, while his similarly-situated co-workers were not assigned additional work. Vega’s other allegations of discrimination, even if they do not independently constitute adverse employment actions, provide “relevant background evidence” by shedding light on Defendant’s motivation and thus bolster his claim that Defendants treated him differently because of his ethnicity. See Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 112, 122 S.Ct. 2061 (quoting United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U.S. 553, 558, 97 S.Ct. 1885, 52 L.Ed.2d 571 (1977)) (internal quotation marks omitted); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976) (holding that “an invidious discriminatory purpose may often be inferred from the totality of the relevant facts”). For example, the District placed a “University of Puerto Rico” banner outside his classroom and attempted to transfer him to a Hispanic principal’s school. These actions are plausibly connected to Vega’s Hispanic background and therefore provide a contextual basis for inferring discrimination. Vega has thus plausibly alleged that his Hispanic background was a “motivating factor” contributing to his being assigned extra work. See Raniola v. Bratton, 243 F.3d 610, 628 (2d Cir.2001).

 As a result of the Court’s decision, Vega’s case was brought back to life, and Vega was free to move forward with litigating the case.

Thus, while every petty grievance will not allow you to sue your boss for discrimination, they can add up to create a compelling case. Because this area of law can be very confusing, your best bet is to call the right attorney right away.

If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, 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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