When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, it was meant to protect minority groups from discrimination by the majority. People of different races, genders, religions, and national origins were given the right to vote and were more protected in the workplace. The act has provided more equality for these groups for over 40 years. Sometimes, however, members of the majority discover they need protection as well.
On November 1, 2011, a jury ruled that Michael Clum, a white male, had been discriminated against after an altercation between him and a co-worker who was African-American. Mr. Clum and his co-worker were having a dispute when unfriendly words were exchanged. Mr. Clum’s employer, Jackson National Life Insurance, determined his final response was violent in nature and terminated him. Mr. Clum filed a reverse discrimination suit because he was terminated and his co-worker was not reprimanded. The jury agreed that he had been discriminated against in his termination and awarded him over $1 million for lost wages and emotional distress.
In another recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Hamilton Growers, Inc. in Georgia on behalf of 19 workers who claim they were discriminated against because of their national origin. The 19 workers are Americans. According to the suit, Hamilton Growers, Inc. favored workers from Mexico over the American workers by giving them better job assignments that allowed them to earn more pay and by firing almost all of the American workers in the 2009 and 2010 growing seasons. The suit asks for lost wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. This case illustrates that Title VII, the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically discusses workplace discrimination, protects people of all national origins, even Americans who are the majority. This case was filed in October, 2011 and is still pending.
Reverse religious discrimination has also been the subject of lawsuits. In Noyes v Kelly Services, Ms. Noyes claimed she was discriminated against because she was not a member of the same religious organization as her supervisor. When a manager position became available at Kelly Services, the plaintiff was passed over for another individual who had less experience and education than she did. Ms. Noyes filed suit, claiming the other woman was promoted because she was a member of Fellowship of Friends, the same organization to which her supervisor belonged. She also noted that four of the last five promotions had been given to members of the same religious group. The jury agreed with Ms. Noyes, awarding $647,000 in compensatory damages and $5.9 million in punitive damages.
One facet of reverse discrimination that is not currently covered under federal law is reverse age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) only protects workers over the age of 40. A few states, including Alaska, Maryland, New York and New Jersey, have reverse discrimination laws that protect employees over 18 from being discriminated against because of their youth. Kentucky does not currently have a reverse age discrimination law. With today’s weak economy, recent graduates and other young workers are having a hard time finding employment, and they may run a greater risk of losing their jobs if their employers decide to make budget-cutting layoffs based on seniority. The economy is also causing older workers to delay retiring, which is making it more difficult for young workers to find employment. These factors will likely lead to more young people feeling discriminated against and may ultimately lead to more state laws to protect younger workers or even changes to federal age discrimination laws.
Regardless of whether you are a member of a minority group or part of the majority, issues can arise that make working uncomfortable, challenging, or impossible. Workplace discrimination and wrongful termination can affect anyone. The Kentucky employment attorneys at Miller & Falkner have been helping people with their workplace issues for over eight years. If you feel you have been discriminated against at work or wrongfully terminated, please contact them to determine your best course of action.
Young workers say their age holds them back; USA Today; Stephanie Armour
Laingsburg man awarded $1 million in suit against Jackson National Life; Lansing State Journal; Laura Misjak; November 2, 2011
Hamilton Growers Sued By EEOC For Discrimination Against American Workers; EEOC; October 5, 2011
Reverse Religious Discrimination Nets Worker $6.5 Million; hr.blr.com; August 12, 2008