Claims of employment discrimination or harassment in the workplace must be taken seriously. They must be evaluated in light of the totality of the circumstances. There are several types of defenses that are commonly presented by employers when faced with a claim of employment discrimination or harassment.
Common Defenses in Employment Discrimination and Harassment Cases
One of the most commonly asserted defenses against an employment discrimination claim is that the employer lacked a discriminatory motive. While an employee may assert that he or she suffered an adverse employment action due to being a member of a protected class, an employer may counter saying there were other, legal and legitimate reasons for the adverse employment action. For instance, the employee may have displayed poor job performance or was habitually late for work. If this assertion is made by an employer, however, lack of evidence to support the proffered legal reason for the adverse employment action will undermine the employers position.
In other cases, a rule or policy set forth by an employer may appear facially neutral but have a disparate impact when applied that may be seen as discriminatory. The disparate impact, however, may be justified by other, nondiscriminatory reasons. If a rule or policy has a disparate impact but serves a legitimate business necessity or purpose, then it will not be seen as running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. There are cases, however, where an employer asserts business necessity as a mere pretext for what is actually a discriminatory policy or rule.
One of the most common defenses asserted when an employer is faced with a harassment claim is that the employee welcomed the conduct they are claiming to be harassment. Harassment is, by definition, unwelcome conduct. This means that if the employee was amenable to the conduct, it is not considered to be harassment. To support an assertion that an employee welcomed the conduct, employers will comb through emails and locate other employees willing to testify to the behavior of the employee bringing the harassment claim.
Another common defense to workplace harassment is that the employer did not know of the harassment that was allegedly occurring. While employers will be automatically held liable in the event that a supervisor harasses a subordinate employee, this is not the case if a non-supervisor employee harassed another non-supervisor employee. In this type of case, an employer will only be held liable in the event that they knew about the harassment, but failed to appropriately address the behavior in a timely manner. This highlights the fact that, if you have been the victim of workplace harassment, it is important for you to report the harassment to Human Resources. This will put your employer on notice of the harassment so that they will not be able to claim they did not know about it further down the road.
Employment Discrimination Attorney
If you have suffered harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it is critical that you know your legal rights and how to pursue them. Knowledgeable employment discrimination and harassment attorney Thomas M. Lancia PLLC will provide you with the answers and information you need. Contact us today.