Employment Discrimination FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Employment discrimination is a broad term which is generally understood to mean an employer treating an employee badly based on things the employee often can’t control, including:

  • Race;
  • Age;
  • Sex;
  • Disability;
  • Race;
  • National Origin;
  • Sexual Preference; and
  • Gender Identity.

Although the term “employment discrimination” may cover all those things, the laws prohibiting employment discrimination are complex and broad, and can vary greatly depending on what state you’re in.

There are a great number of laws prohibiting different types of employment discrimination, and while federal laws apply in every state, each state often has its own additional laws governing employees in that state. In addition, depending on the circumstances, an employee who has been treated poorly may also have claims under other laws, such as assault, battery, defamation, etc.

In terms of federal law, here are some of the some of the more important laws:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • The Equal Pay Act, which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against certain individuals with disabilities;
  • The Rehabilitation Act, which prohibit discrimination against certain government employees with disabilities; and
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991

In terms of Missouri state law, the Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits certain types of employment discrimination, as well as certain types of housing discrimination.

There are numerous other types of claims which can be made in employment situations which an attorney may choose to include for strategic reasons, even though they are technically not employment discrimination claims.

For instance, imagine a supervisor who dislikes people in category “X” (which may be a race, sex, national origin, etc.). So he decides to get rid of them all by giving them bad performance reviews and claiming that they are all consistently late to work. If one of those employees is fired they would have a valid claim for violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act for employment discrimination. However, that employee may also have a valid claim against the supervisor and/or the employer for defamation, since the supervisor made false and defamatory statements about the employee’s conduct which caused reputational harm to the employee.

The applicable “statute of limitations” can vary greatly, depending on exactly which law you are going to be suing under. Because there are so many types of different statutes applying in different locations under different circumstances, it’s not possible to simply give a single answer to this question.

But when suing under many types of employment discrimination laws, many of those laws require that before you file a lawsuit you must first file a timely charge of discrimination. Because the deadlines for filing charges of discrimination typically are very short and measured in days, you should consult an attorney immediately if you want to preserve your rights.

Many employment discrimination laws require that an employee who believes they have been discriminated against must file within a very short timeframe, a formal document with a government agency explaining what happened to them. That document is often called a “Charge Of Discrimination.” The purpose of these laws requiring the filing of the charge discrimination is so that the government can investigate the claim while it’s still fresh, interview witnesses, make decisions about whether or not the law was violated, and sometimes in rare circumstances actually file the lawsuit on behalf of the employee.

For instance, (as of this writing in 2021) the Missouri Human Rights Act requires the employee to file a charge of discrimination within 180 days. Calculating that date, however, can be complicated. In addition, how the employee fills out the form, and which boxes they check, can be extremely important in both the outcome of the case and simply finding out whether or not it was timely filed.

The federal agency which is charged with investigating and enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To illustrate how complex some of these calculations can be, as of August 13, 2021 the EEOC’s website on this topic included this language:

“Time Limits For Filing A Charge

“The anti-discrimination laws give you a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges. For age discrimination, the filing deadline is only extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. The deadline is not extended if only a local law prohibits age discrimination.

“Note: Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint process, and generally must contact an agency EEO Counselor within 45 days. The time limit can be extended under certain circumstances.

“Regardless of how much time you have to file, it is best to file as soon as you have decided that is what you would like to do.

“Time limits for filing a charge with EEOC generally will not be extended while you attempt to resolve a dispute through another forum such as an internal grievance procedure, a union grievance, arbitration or mediation before filing a charge with EEOC. Other forums for resolution may be pursued at the same time as the processing of the EEOC charge.

“Holidays and weekends are included in the calculation, although if the deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, you will have until the next business day. Figuring out how much time you have to file a charge is complicated. If you aren’t sure how much time is left, you should contact one of our field offices as soon as possible so we can assess whether you still have time.

In general, most attorneys view federal court as being more favorable for the employer rather than the employee. There are many reasons for that. One is that federal judges are more likely to throw out lawsuits claiming employment discrimination than state court judges are. Another is that in federal court you only get six jurors and you have to convince all of them to rule in your favor before you can win. For comparison, in Missouri state court, you get 12 jurors, and you only have to convince 9 out of those 12 in order to win.

If you file a lawsuit asserting that the employer’s actions were in violation of both federal and state law, because you sued under federal law, the employer will almost always move the case into federal court.

Alternatively, if you give up your rights under federal law by filing a lawsuit in state court and only claiming that the employer violated state law, you might be able to keep the case in state court. But there is still another mechanism by which the employer can try to “remove” the case to federal court to get the more favorable treatment. That other avenue is called “diversity jurisdiction.” In a shameful act to make it easier for employers to move cases into federal court, the Missouri legislature amended the Missouri Human Rights Act a few years ago to intentionally prohibit employees from suing their sexual harassers, and requiring them to only sue the company. Though the press didn’t cover the real reason for the change, that was it: preventing suits against the harassers favors employers by making it easier for them to move cases into federal court based on “diversity jurisdiction.”

This is explained above, under the question “In An Employment Discrimination Case, Is It Better To Be In Federal Court Or State Court?” The short answer is that preventing the suit against the harasser benefits the company by increasing the chance they can move the case into federal court, where many of the rules and procedures favor the company over the employee.