When you’ve been let go by your employer, it’s human nature to think that your civil rights have been violated.  As unfair as it is, however, that’s not always a given.  While most people are familiar with the phrase “at-will employment,” that term can be confusing.  Being an “at-will” employee means that your employer can choose to terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, as long as the reason isn’t discriminatory.  Simply being underappreciated or not given a good reason for your termination, while certainly unfair, is not necessarily illegal. In fact, under the at-will doctrine, your employer can terminate the working relationship for no reason whatsoever and still not be held liable for wrongful termination or discrimination.  (Although, it’s important to note that Minnesota Statute § 181.933 requires that your employer provide a written reason for termination to you if you request one.  For more on that topic, check here: http://joelarsonlaw.com/2014/02/10/what-to-do-when-youve-been-terminated-by-your-employer/.  From a practical standpoint, if the employer absolutely refuses to give a reason for terminating someone, it stands to reason that it will be easier to suggest their motives were discriminatory, so normally your employer will provide a reason, even if that reason is only meant to cover their backside.)

Discriminatory Motive – Race, Sex, Age, Disability, Sexual Orientation, etc.

So, when do claims against employers arise?  In order to have a viable claim against your employer, a plaintiff first needs to show that he/she was being discriminated against by his/her employer.  That means the plaintiff was being treated differently than other similarly situated co-workers based on that person’s inclusion in a protected class.  The categories of protected classes are as follows:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Your need for Family leave
  • Your need for Medical leave
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy

Accordingly, if you can show that you were deprived of a job or job benefits because of your inclusion in one of those protected classes, when others who are not members of those classes were given those benefits, then you might have a claim for employment discrimination or wrongful termination.

Hostile Work Environment

After a plaintiff can show that his/her inclusion in a protected class was the discriminatory motive behind his/her termination, the second question is whether or not the treatment constituted a hostile work environment.  A hostile work environment is conduct in the workplace that is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with your ability to do your job.  In order to be a legally actionable hostile work environment, the treatment you are facing at work must be based on your status as a member of one of the protected classes mentioned above, such as your age, race, sexual orientation, gender, etc.

Unfortunately you won’t be able to win a lawsuit simply because you are working in an environment that is uncivil or even hostile, unless that incivility or hostility is specifically based on your inclusion in a protected class (such as reporting illegal conduct, which constitutes a separate claim for retaliation).  Just because the boss is micro-managing you or treating you rudely for personal reasons – or no reason at all – you will not be able to successfully sue them for a hostile work environment. In order to constitute a hostile work environment, the hostile treatment must be towards you and others in your protected class, while those outside your protected class are not subject to that treatment.  Further, the working environment must be so severe and hostile that you are unable to perform your job.  Common examples of this include a boss or co-worker making repeated and unwanted sexual advances towards the plaintiff or supervisors and/or co-workers making derogatory remarks about the plaintiff’s age, race, sexual orientation, etc. If those unwanted sexual advances or comments affect the plaintiff’s ability to work, then he/she may have a claim against his/her employer for hostile work environment discrimination.

No one deserves to be discriminated against in the workplace.  If you have been subject to a hostile work environment based on discrimination as described above, contact my office for a free consultation today.