When most people think of workplace discrimination, they think of unequal pay between genders, employer retaliation, or even racial discrimination. For some, it may be odd to think of being passed over for a promotion as workplace discrimination, but in certain situations, it's absolutely possible. If your employer rejected you for a promotion you were qualified for and you suspect the rejection may be for the wrong reasons, you may be a victim of discrimination. If you're unsure or need help determining if it's time to take legal action, you should review what promotion discrimination is and how to tell if you're a victim of it.
This is a common employment law question that doesn't have a straight answer. Being passed over for a promotion is legally actionable under certain circumstances. However, the law has certain safeguards in place to ensure false discrimination cases don't crop up left and right, and, initially, the burden of proof falls upon the plaintiff. You can't take legal action for not receiving a promotion unless you first file a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
If you don't have the right grounds to begin a case, and the agency finds nothing during the initial investigation, you'll receive a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights." This means you have the right to sue, but the EEOC won't seek litigation, which can end up being a complete waste of time.
Before you can take legal action for promotion discrimination, it's important to understand what promotion discrimination is and how to tell if you're a victim in the eyes of the law. Promotion discrimination means that an employee was passed over for a promotion or raise because they are part of a protected class. Keep in mind that at-will states are not exempt from this, and they cannot engage in any form of workplace discrimination.
Needless to say, employers can refuse to promote you for completely legal reasons, and scorned employees can't pursue legal action for just any reason. A lack of promotion also does not automatically mean that your employer did so for illegitimate reasons. Ultimately, your employment contract should state what qualifications you need to meet to qualify for a promotion. If you don't meet the necessary qualifications and thus were not promoted, the situation likely does not qualify as promotion discrimination. That being said, your employer can state you did not meet requirements simply to establish a false pretense, which they can use in court to dispute your discrimination claim.
As mentioned, for the court to consider a lack of promotion a form of discrimination, you must first be part of a protected class or have a protected characteristic. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act put laws in place that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees if they fall into one of these protected groups. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, pregnancy status, age, or genetic information. If your employer denied you a promotion because you belong to one of these protected classes, the law would consider that promotion discrimination.
However, being part of a protected class and being denied a promotion doesn't automatically make the action promotion discrimination. Again, if you are not qualified for the position, your employer does not have to promote you. However, if you are qualified for the position and your employer still denies you a promotion, there may be alternative and potentially unlawful factors at play.
Say that you are part of a protected class, you are qualified for a position, and your employer still refuses to promote you. Does this automatically mean you're a victim of employment discrimination? Not necessarily. Your employer may still have a good reason for not promoting you. Another person may have been more qualified, or it's possible that there weren't enough open positions.
In these cases, it's important to speak with your employer about their reason for not promoting you. In discrimination cases, it's usually easy for the employee to tell when their employer is giving them poor excuses. Asking for clarification or reasoning will quickly cause a lie or bad excuse to crumble.
Again, it's possible that your employer is feeding you a good excuse to make sure you don't file a claim. If you're unsure whether your employer's reasoning is valid, pay attention to who ends up getting the promotion. Is it someone of the same protected class? Were they just as qualified as you? If the person that received the promotion is underqualified and is of an entirely different protected class, there's a good chance your employer refused to promote you for an unlawful reason.
If you believe that you're a victim of promotion discrimination, your first step should be to contact an employment lawyer and file a claim with the EEOC. An assigned agent will investigate the case and determine whether a violation of the law occurred. During this time, it is important to stay in close contact with your lawyer, document what you can, and continue doing your job as you normally would. If you lash out or do your job poorly out of anger, your employer could use your bad behavior as justification for not promoting you.
If the agent finds that there was a violation of employment law, they'll likely reach out to your employer to reach a settlement. If your employer refuses to settle, the case will go to a legal staff who will file a suit. Alternatively, if the agent does not find an employment violation, you will receive a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" letter, allowing you to sue without the backing of the EEOC.
Now that you know how to tell if you've been a victim of promotion discrimination, it's time to ask the final question—will you take legal action? All forms of workplace discrimination are part of a larger systemic issue that plagues workplaces across America, and it needs to be dealt with. However, employment law is complex, and victims can't fight these cases on their own. Contact workplace discrimination lawyer Tamara N Holder today and get the justice you deserve.