Under the Equal Pay Act, an employer must pay both men and women equally if they perform equal work. That raises the question of what equal work means. The statute itself helps with this question a little bit. The text of the statute states that work is considered equal if the performance of both jobs
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Discrimination is real. Denying systemic racism, doesn’t make it nonexistent. In 2020, we’ve seen a resurgence of people actively fighting against race discrimination in large numbers. Police violence against Black Americans reignited a fuse. Protestors have taken their voices to the streets, have launched social media campaigns, and have organized to fight injustice where it thrives with hopes of real change.
Racial injustices can permeate every aspect of a person’s life. It can be four Black, young adults being pulled over by the police when they’ve done nothing wrong, only to have an officer say, “where are you coming from” and “can I search your vehicle.” It may be realizing you are being followed in a department store. It may be someone saying, “yeah, I have a problem with that Black teacher.” It can even be seen in the hiring, firing, and promotional practices of employers.
Let’s say you have been discriminated against based on your race, but either work for a company with less than 15 employees or are an independent contractor. You know that neither Title VII nor the Texas Labor Code applies to you. Is there any other protection? YES! The answer is 42 U.S.C. §1981.
Let’s say you are an employee of a company with 15 or more people, but that you didn’t hire a lawyer until well after the 300-day statute of limitations for Title VII to assert your race discrimination claim. Do you have any hope? YES! The answer is 42 U.S.C. §1981.
So, what is 42 U.S.C. § 1981?
42 U.S.C. § 1981 prohibits race discrimination and retaliation in the making and enforcing of contracts. It is meant to provide “broad and sweeping” protection against all race discrimination. Faraca v. Clements, 506 F.2d 956, 959 (5th Cir. 1975). According to the Supreme Court, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, from which § 1981 is derived, “was designed to prohibit all racial discrimination . . . with respect to the rights enumerated therein.” Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 422-36 (1968).
As you may hear over and over again, Texas is an at-will employment state. What that means is that there are limited protections for employees in the workplace. At-will employment means that employers can change the terms and conditions of a person’s employment, discipline an employee, or even terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all. The actions of the employer may be unfair, they may be unreasonable, they may even be based off false allegations, but that does not mean that an employer’s actions are unlawful.
For an employer’s actions to be unlawful, the employer’s actions must be based on unlawful motivations. Unlawful motivations would be things like race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. These are just a few examples of the unlawful motivations an employer may have.
In today’s world we cannot ignore that social media is a huge part of our everyday lives. What you post is available for others to see. Even if your social media accounts are private, your posts are available to be seen by your family, friends, and even coworkers once you’ve accepted or extended a “Friend Request.”
But, that’s my private life, right? It can’t affect my employment, right? Wrong.
Social Media and Applying for a Job
We have a lot of potential clients come to us because they are working in what they consider to be a hostile work environment. Their boss yells at them, belittles them, intimidates them, mocks them, etc. Sometimes this treatment is constant. Sometimes this treatment is intermittent but extreme. But generally speaking, these are not petty slights or simple annoyances; it is something more. Overall, these employees are working in an environment a reasonable employee would consider hostile, intimidating, or abusive.
Common sense would dictate that an employer should not be allowed to subject its employees to such treatment. However, unfortunately, there is no federal or Texas law that broadly protects employees from a hostile work environment.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. When employees request or take leave, these workers have protections from FMLA interference and retaliation. This means that employers may not interfere with a worker’s rights to take FMLA leave and may not take adverse employment actions (e.g., write ups, demotions, terminations) against employees for exercising their rights under the FMLA.
Am I protected under the FMLA?
For employees to have protections under the FMLA, their employer must have a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the work location. Additionally, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least a year and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. If all these conditions are not met, the employee may not be protected by the FMLA.
When someone gets treated unlawfully at their job because of that person’s race, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, or color that person suffers more than just loss of income. A person’s job is often tied to their identity, their reputation, their sense of worth, and sense of purpose. Losing a job, not getting a promotion, not getting hired, or being subjected to severe or pervasive harassment causes very real pain and suffering. It can strain friendships, estrange family members, break up marriages, and ruin lives. Because unlawful employment discrimination causes that kind of actual damage, most employment laws allow a person to recover money for those things. In employment law, these damages are called compensatory damages and can be recovered in lawsuits against private employers, state and local government employers, and federal agencies.
One of the questions I get all of the time during consultations is, “what does it mean to be an ‘at will’ employee?” If you have this question, then you are in luck because that is what this week’s blog is all about!
First, “at will” employment is the default employment relationship in the state of Texas. That means if you do not have a contract or agreement defining some other type of employment relationship with your company, then you are an “at will” employee. By far, most employees are “at will” employees.
Every day our office receives calls and online inquiries from workers seeking legal advice. They want to know whether their boss’s actions are illegal and whether they have claims to pursue. And, if the answer to both of those questions is yes, they have to think about whether they are ready to take action to protect their rights. But still, before even contacting an attorney they may be afraid. They don’t know when they need an attorney, how long to wait before contacting an attorney, or even if contacting an attorney is the right choice for them. That’s why consultations are a very important part of the practice of law.
How do I know I need an employment attorney?
If you are even asking this question the safest answer is seek a consultation.