Friday, January 07, 2005
The beautiful thing about a Blog is that even a lawyer gets to ramble a bit. After all, these are my thoughts. Right now the law is stuck. It is stuck between an outdated view of how discrimination works and the extent of discrimination against certain groups. Judges and most lawyers believe that when a person accuses someone of discrimination, that they are accusing that person of OVERT, racism or sexism. That is rarely the case. Most discrimination today is far more subtle and yet just as harmful.
Therefore, when I file a claim of discrimination, I have other lawyers, employers and judges thinking the employer is being accused of racism, when in reality, they are being accused of allowing some degree of negative attitudes toward that minority to affect their decision-making process.
This is a big problem. It affects how judges view evidence and how employers respond to claims of discrimination. It gets everyone's dander up and makes the cases hard to resolve. Even my clients often believe that the only choice available to them is either a) that they were fired by an OVERT racist or sexist or b) their race or gender had NOTHING to do with it. Neither answer is correct, at least most of the time.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
The number of people who truly understand how bias works in this society are few, meaning 100 or even 1000. Most people view words like discrimination or prejudice as synonymous with hatred. Most people view the problem as being, everyone but themselves. The TRUTH is that the best way to know how to fight bias and promote equality is to ask what a person who has bias looks like and then look in the mirror.....
Sexual Harrassment is Gender Discrimination
Most people don't understand this. Heck, most lawyers don't understand this fact. There is no Federal law that says "Sexual Harrassment is illegal." The Courts simply created the concept of sexual harrassment from the law preventing GENDER discrimination. The idea was that a woman who was bombarded by sexual comments all day long was being treated differently because of her Sex or her Gender.
Can you say "hello" to a pretty woman without being sued for sexual harrassment? Of course you can! There is no law against talking to a person of the opposite sex or asking them out on a date or even flirting with them. Even a sexual comment that occurs one time and is a bit over the edge is not enough to create a hostile environment. Most people know the difference and those who do not, either don't care or never will understand it.
Now....an employer can certainly fire you for making one comment or for flirting, but that is the EMPLOYER'S doing. The law does not require them to fire you, the law only requires that they take steps to fix the problem or potential problem. That can be as simple as asking you to stop flirting, or transferring you or taking some other step to make the person complaining feel comfortable.
The key is to make a formal complaint about behavior that you find sexually offensive and ask that it stop.
Civil Rights 101
Almost every employee I talk to does not understand their rights. The short answer, is that all employees have a legal right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, religion and Nationality. Most employees have a right to be free from retaliation for complaining about discrimination, or about some type of illegal action by their employer and most employees have a right to be free to file claims for Workers' Compensation without fear of retaliation. Beyond that......there ain't much.
The good, the Bad and the Lawyer
Lawyers often get a bad name. Many of us make good money and many of us represent unsavory people. There is a flaw in the legal system that allows lawyers to do good based on greed. For example, one of the BEST things about the legal system is the Class Action. It allows a small hourly employee to hold a billion dollar corporation accountable for its own greed. That does give an opportunity for one lawyer to make a great deal of money.
The legal system can be taken advantage of just like any other system. However, most lawyers are simply people earning a living. There are no more bad lawyers in the world than bad plumbers or doctors. They are just people.
This BLOG is one effort to educate people on the limits of their rights as employees. Corporate America wants the little guy to think badly of ALL lawyers. They do so because, right or wrong, lawyers are one of the few ways the little guy can fight the big guys.
Lawyers who practice in employment law and civil rights do not make millions. They represent people who make $10 an hour and are committed to helping people as much as any doctor or social worker.
Therefore, as you hear terrible things about TRIAL LAWYERS, remember that there are trial lawyers who help people regardless of their income or background and they do it everyday.