As we have mentioned a few times in the past, the EEOC is responsible for enforcing a number of federal laws that prohibit discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. These federal laws include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin;
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), amended Title VII to prohibit discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth;
- Equal Pay Act, makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women that perform similar work;
- Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), makes it illegal for private employers to discriminate against or fail to accomodate employees with a disability;
- Rehabilitation Act, similar to the ADA, but extends to the federal government;
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), makes it illegal to discriminate against employees that are over age 40;
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), makes it illegal to discriminate against employees because of genetic information.
It is important to note that the EEOC does not actually have the authority to issue an award of damages to an employee of private company that has been subjected to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. Instead, the EEOC is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination and trying to resolve them through mediation. When the EEOC finds evidence of discrimination and is unable to resolve the dispute, the EEOC can file a lawsuit on behalf of the individual. However, it is extremely rare for the EEOC to file a lawsuit – in 2012, the EEOC received 99,412 charges of discrimination, but filed only 122 complaints in court. Thus, the vast majority of discrimination lawsuits are pursued by individuals and their attorneys.
The answer to the question about damages though depends on the particular statute that has been violated because each statute may make different types of damages available to an employee that can prove that their employer violated the particular statute.
- Title VII: Economic Damages (including reinstatement, back pay, and/or front pay), Compensatory Damages (for emotional distress or mental anguish), Punitive Damages and Attorneys’ Fees;
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act: because the PDA only amends Title VII, the damages are the same as those listed above;
- Equal Pay Act: Economic Damages (including back pay, reinstatement and/or front pay), Punitive Damages (limited to an amount equal to the amount of Economic Damages) and Attorneys’ Fees (N.B. the Equal Pay Act does not provide for Compensatory Damages);
- ADA: same as Title VII;
- Rehabilitation Act: Economic Damages, Compensatory Damages, and Attorney Fees (NO Punitive Damages);
- ADEA: same as Equal Pay Act;
- GINA: same at Title VII.
As the above demonstrates, the remedies that may be available to you depend on the statute in question. Also, it is important to keep in mind that state and city law provide additional levels of damages that often times exceed the damages permitted under federal law. As a result, before you pursue a claim of discrimination, it is important that you meet with an attorney to discuss these and other issues. If you would like to be connected with an attorney, please fill out the form below: