Laws that Protect Federal Employees from Discrimination and Harassment

What Laws Protect Federal Employees From Discrimination and Harassment?

Are you a federal employee who thinks you may have been a victim of discrimination based on your sex, race, religion, national origin, color disability, age, or other protected class on the job with the federal government? Then you need an experienced EEO complaint lawyer familiar with federal employment law who can walk you through the steps to file an EEO complaint against the federal government. If you have struggled in a discriminatory or hostile work environment, our knowledgeable federal employment law attorneys can help explain federal laws governing discrimination and determine whether you have a case to pursue against your federal agency at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in federal court.

Our attorneys with the federal employment law team at The Federal Practice Group are well versed in the substantive laws protecting federal employees from discrimination, including disparate treatment, which is when an employer treats an employee differently — e.g., in a promotion selection or with regard to harsher discipline — because of that employee’s membership in a protected class (such as race, sex, or disability), and hostile work environment, which is when an employer, because of an employee’s membership in a protected class, subjects that employee to unwelcome harassment. These federal laws include protecting federal employees from discrimination and harassment include:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963

Title VII prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees because of sex/gender, race, national origin, color, religion, or retaliation for opposing discrimination or participating in the EEO process just as it prohibits illegal discrimination and retaliation in the private sector. Title VII prohibits the federal government from taking employment actions, including creating a hostile work environment, based on any of these protected classes, for example, making it illegal race discrimination under Title VII for an African-American to not be promoted because of race as as well as for a White employee to not be promoted because of race, and the same applies to the other protected categories, including sex and national origin.

While federal employees today still sometimes face blatant discriminatory acts such as use of the “n-word” or hanging nooses, a single act of which the EEOC has found to constitute illegal race discrimination in violation of Title VII, more subtle, but still illegal, discrimination is now far more common in workplaces, including the federal government. The Supreme Court, as well as the EEOC, has long recognized that unlawful discrimination under Title VII can stem from stereotypes and other types of cognitive biases, as well as from conscious animus, and more recent cases continue to recognize the validity of claims based on employers’ biased or stereotypical thinking. This unconscious bias is often a factor in non-selection or non-promotion claims, as well as claims of harassment or hostile work environment based on sex, race, color, or national origin. While these claims can be more difficult to prove under Title VII than claims where direct evidence of discrimination is present, the attorneys at The Federal Practice Group are well versed in pursuing these discrimination claims and building a case before the EEOC or in federal court.

Additionally, in recent years, the EEOC has broadened the protection afforded under Title VII, finding that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination also protects federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The EEOC has also seen a recent increase in national origin discrimination claims, as well as claims based on religion, as there have been increased incidents of discrimination nationwide, including in the federal government, against employees whose national origin is from a Middle Eastern country and/or those who observe the Muslim religion.

If you believe that your federal agency is discriminating against you because of sex/gender, race, national origin, religion, color, or in retaliation for opposing discrimination or participating in the EEO complaint process, contact an attorney with the federal employment law team at The Federal Practice Group to get an honest assessment of your possible EEO complaint, and additional information on the EEO complaint process, and your rights as a federal employee.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Reasonable Accomodation

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is very similar to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of disability, requires federal agencies to provide Reasonable Accommodations to disabled employees, and prohibits retaliation/reprisal for participation in protected activity.

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires both nondiscrimination and affirmative action with respect to disabled federal employees and applicants for federal employment. It specifically provides that the standards used to determine whether a federal agency has discriminated against an individual with a disability “shall be the standards applied under title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. . . as such sections relate to employment.” Additionally, the Section 501’s regulations provide that the federal government “shall be a model employer of individuals with disabilities.”

Recent amendments ADA have made it easier for employees, including federal employees, to establish that they are “disabled employees” or “qualified individuals with a disability” under the law who are entitled to protection and reasonable accommodation. If you need advice or assistance on requesting reasonable accommodation, or if you have been denied a reasonable accommodation, the attorneys at The Federal Practice Group can advise you on what your rights are and what the next steps are to obtain your needed reasonable accommodation so that you can continue to perform successfully in your job or possibly be reassigned to another job that you are able to perform with reasonable accommodation.

In some cases, a federal employee may need legal assistance to even establish that he or she is a “qualified individual with a disability” and thus that the agency is required to provide appropriate reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is considered a change, adaptation, or modification in a workplace that is needed for disabled employees to fulfill the duties of their job. Reasonable accommodations may also include changes or modifications to policies which enable all qualified workers to accomplish the tasks that their specific job requires. Requests for reasonable accommodation can include modifications to a work station, wheelchair accessibility, accessible parking, telecommuting, or other similar accommodations. Managers and supervisors are not allowed to discriminate or otherwise ignore reasonable requests from their employees, or to retaliate if you have requested a reasonable accommodation. If you have experienced discrimination or are concerned about your rights when it comes to requests for reasonable accommodation, you need to contact an experienced attorney without delay.

If you are a current federal employee or applicant for federal employment suffering from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, you may be eligible for a reasonable medical accommodation in your current position or the position to which you have applied in accordance with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADAAA), applicable to the federal workforce through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The attorneys at the Federal Practice Group are well versed in laws governing the reasonable accommodation process and have successfully assisted federal employees through all stages of the process, including, but not necessarily limited to, initiating the reasonable accommodation procedure through submission of  a reasonable accommodation request on behalf of the employee; acting as an advocate for the employee during the interactive process to identify options for effective accommodation; conferring with the employee’s medical professionals regarding supporting information and documentation under certain circumstances where this may be needed to support the request; advising the employee on legal issues that can arise during the process such as problems related to requests for medical information generated during the process that may be overly intrusive, responding to agency offers of only partial or temporary accommodation, and/or addressing agency responses to accommodation requests that can include compelled reassignments or demotions;  and challenging any failure to provide effective accommodation or the aforementioned accommodation request-related problems via the federal EEO process when an agency’s actions during the reasonable accommodation process violates the law or  when the employee is subjected retaliation.

Reasonable accommodation of ADAAA-covered medical conditions is not discretionary; it is mandatory, and can only be denied in specific, legally-cognizable circumstances.   Yet, despite federal agencies having an affirmative duty to provide reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities, many federal supervisors, who are responsible for addressing accommodation needs, lack either the proper training or knowledge to effectively meet this obligation. The result is that many individuals, who are able to perform the essential functions of the position in question with a medical accommodation, go without effective accommodations to the detriment of their health, or have their rights trampled upon by their federal agency during the process. Others find themselves facing an uphill battle to maintain their otherwise positive performance history and disciplinary record when the lack of accommodation impacts their on-the-job performance.

Your accommodation needs should not go unaddressed or cause you to face overly broad and intrusive medical inquiries or other harassing and unwelcome actions such as allegations of poor performance or leave-abuse.  Similarly, filing a reasonable accommodation request and participating in that process is protected EEO activity, and you are shielded from any adverse treatment that agency management officials may subject you in retaliation for those protected activities pursuant to the anti-retaliation statutes.

Our attorneys have achieved many successful outcomes for our clients, who need accommodation, from securing effective accommodations for our clients, to negotiating favorable settlement agreements to resolve failure to accommodate issues, to obtaining a finding of discrimination against a federal agency from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after litigating an EEO Complaint of discrimination based upon failure to accommodate.      Contact an attorney today to learn more about your rights and responsibilities in seeking a reasonable accommodation and learn how to avoid commonly-seen pitfalls related to the accommodation process.



The Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires federal agencies to pay male and female federal employees the same for substantially similar work.

As applied to the federal government, the EEOC has held that the federal government’s classification system is not a defense to an Equal Pay Act claim. In other words, if a female employee who is a GS-12 is performing substantially similar work as a male employee who is a GS-13, the federal government cannot hide behind its classification system to justify this difference in pay. It is also illegal for the federal government to downgrade the male employee to GS-12 to correct its violation of the Equal Pay Act.

The relief available to federal employees under the EPA is somewhat different than the relief available under Title VII (for example, compensatory damages are not allowable, but liquidated damages may be available). In some cases, a federal agency might be violating both the EPA and Title VII by failing to pay women and men equally for the same work. The attorneys at The Federal Practice Group can advise you on what you rights may be in your particular circumstance.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against federal employees on the basis of age and prohibits retaliation/reprisal for participation in protected activity. Unlike for other anti-discrimination statutes, the relief available to federal employees suffering age discrimination may be limited due to specific language Congress included in the statute. Nevertheless, discrimination against federal employees over the age of 40 is illegal, and back pay is available as a remedy, as well as forms of equitable relief.

Do You Need a Reliable and Experienced EEOC Hearing Lawyer?

If you believe you are experiencing discrimination or a hostile work environment on any of these protected basis, contact The Federal Practice Group for a consultation about your rights, as federal employees have very limited time frames to raise claims of discrimination.

If you are able to prove that your federal agency is violating one of these anti-discrimination statutes, then you may be entitled to relief including compensatory damages, equitable relief — e.g., correction of personnel records, reassignment, restoration of leave — and reimbursement of attorney’s fees.



The proven attorneys at The Federal Practice Group have over a century of combined experience successfully assisting federal employees through the most difficult periods of their lives and careers.