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Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

DISCRIMINATION and RETALIATION

Employees and Applicants for employment are protected from various types of discrimination and from retaliation for complaining about illegal conduct

Federal, State and, in some instances, even local laws, may provide protections to employees to be free from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.  Some of the laws may only apply to certain employees. For instance, if you are a federal employee, state and local laws will not apply to your employment. 

Generally speaking, the federal anti-discrimination laws that apply to most employees are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or Rehabilitation Act (ADA/Rehab Act), and the Equal Pay Act. Veterans may also have some protections under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

Not only are most employees covered by these Federal laws, but most states have enacted their own anti-discrimination laws, including Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Similarly, the District of Columbia also has a robust anti-discrimination law.

In addition, certain counties within Maryland have passed their own anti-discrimination laws, including Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and Howard County.  Some of these local government laws provide additional protected bases.  This means that where a federal or state law may not provide a basis for a claim, you may have rights pursuant to a local government law.

Along with anti-discrimination laws, are laws that protect employees from retaliation when they have complained about discrimination or when they have complained about other wrongdoing (whistleblower laws).

Title VII – 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.

Title VII protects employees and job applicants from discrimination due to race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. The Act also makes it unlawful to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Discrimination under Title VII covers intentional discrimination and practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color national origin, religion or sex.

The act covers actions taken by the employer such as hiring/firing, compensation, assignment, transfers, promotions, layoffs, testing, training, recruitments, job advertisements, leave and other benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Further, it addresses harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex (which includes pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity), and religion.

For religion, it covers reasonable accommodation of sincerely held religious observances or practices that do not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The Act also addresses discrimination due to being associated with someone in a protected class.

USERRA

USERRA provides service members with rights regarding their return to civilian employment upon completion of their military service; and with protections against discrimination in hiring, promotion and retention on the basis of current, past and future membership in the armed services or military obligations.

Executive Order 11246

This Executive Order prohibits federal contractors and federally‐assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. The Executive Order also requires Government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment. Additionally, Executive Order 11246 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from, under certain circumstances, taking adverse employment actions against applicants and employees for asking about, discussing, or sharing information about their pay or the pay of their co‐workers.

ADA – 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.

The ADA addresses discrimination due to disability.

For employers with 15 or more employees, it requires the employer to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause undue hardship. The ADA requires reasonable accommodations as they relate to three aspects of employment: 1) ensuring equal opportunity in the application process; 2) enabling a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job; and 3) making it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

If you are seeking a reasonable accommodation for a disability and you are denied your requested accommodations, you may have a claim against your employer.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government' programs and services.

If your employer regards you as having a disability that your employer believes makes you unable to do your job, you may have a claim against your employer.

If your employer is treating you unfairly because of your disability, you may have a claim against your employer.

If you have experienced harassment against you because of your disability, you may have a claim against your employer.

If you believe that your employer has begun treating you worse because you complained about discrimination in the workplace due to your disability, you may have a claim against your employer.

ADEA – 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.

The ADEA protects applicants and employees who are 40 years or older from employment discrimination based on age. This protection applies to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, training, and harassment.

In addition, retaliation for complaining about age discrimination is also disallowed.

In 1990, the ADEA was amended by the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (OWBPA), which added protections from denial of benefits, added notice and time requirements when an older employee waives their ADEA claims, and set out a prohibition from the waiver of future rights.

Equal Pay Act – 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)

The Equal Pay Act is located within the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and specifically addresses gender equity in compensation and prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.

Equal Pay Act – 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)

The Equal Pay Act is located within the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and specifically addresses gender equity in compensation and prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.

Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA), Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t, § 20-601 et seq., makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, age, ancestry or national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, or disability by employers with more than 15 employees. Of note is that under FEPA, it also applies to independent contractors.

Further under FEPA, even employers with only one or more employees are covered when it comes to harassment claims based on “race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability” and the harassment encompasses the acts of the person responsible for the harassment to include those that can make or recommend employment decisions (e.g., hiring and firing, promotion and demotion, and reassignments) or a person who directs, supervises, or evaluates the work activities of the employee, even if that person does not have the power to make employment decisions.  Additionally, an employer can be liable if its own negligence leads to harassment or enables harassment to continue.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims

Apart from retaliation arising from having complained about discrimination, there are a multitude of laws, both federal and State, that may provide employees a right to bring a claim if they are retaliated against for having complained about certain types of wrongdoing. For instance, if you may have experienced retaliation after complaining about:

  • Discrimination in education;
  • Violations of consumer product and food safety;
  • Violations of employee safety;
  • Violations of environmental protection laws;
  • Violations of family and medical leave laws;
  • About fraud and financial matters such as tax fraud;
  • Violations of health insurance laws;
  • Medicaid/Medicare fraud/waste/abuse;
  • Lie detector testing violations;
  • Mine inspection and safety violations;
  • Minimum wage or overtime pay violations;
  • Transportation services violations;
  • Youth employment violations;
  • Violations in securities/investment securities industry;
  • Fraud/Waste/Abuse in government contracts;
  • Human trafficking violations;
  • and similar violations.


  • If you have filed complaints that fall within whistleblower protection laws and are facing retaliation, such as a demotion or termination, you should take steps to bring a claim of retaliation.

    Family Medical Leave Act/Leave Accrual and Use of Leave Under Maryland Law

    FMLA – if you are eligible, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the (a) the birth of a child or placement of a child for adoption or foster care; (b) to bond with a child (leave must be taken within one year of the child’s birth or placement); (c) to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a qualifying serious health condition; (d) for the employee’s own qualifying serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the employee’s job; (e) for qualifying exigencies related to the foreign deployment of a military member who is the employee’s spouse, child, or parent. An eligible employee who is a covered servicemember’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin may also take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to care for the servicemember with a serious injury or illness.

    Leave can be in one block, taken intermittently, or on a reduced schedule. You can use your accrued leave during FMLA leave and, at times, your employer may require that you use your accrued leave. An employee does not need to use leave in one block. When it is medically necessary or otherwise permitted, employees may take leave intermittently or on a reduced schedule. Employees may choose, or an employer may require, use of accrued paid leave while taking FMLA leave.

    The employer is not supposed to interfere with your rights while you are out on FMLA or retaliate against you for having taken FMLA leave. Moreover, employers must continue health insurance coverage as if the employees were not on leave and when returning from FMLA leave, most employees must be restored to the same job or one nearly identical to it with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions.

    One is eligible for FMLA if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months; have at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months before taking leave; and you work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

    Maryland Leave Law – your employer is required to provide you one hour of sick and safe leave for every 30 hours that you work, with a maximum number of 40 hours of leave. That leave is not required to be paid leave unless your employer employees 15 or more employees. You have no right to use that leave until you have been employed over 106 calendar days.

    An employee is allowed to use earned sick and safe leave under the following conditions for certain purpose, including to care for your own mental or physical illness, injury or condition; to obtain preventative medical care for yourself or a family member; to care for your family member’s mental or physical illness, injury or condition; for maternity/paternity leave; or due to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking committed against you or a family member where the leave is to obtain (1) medical or mental health attention; (2) services from a victim services organization; (3) for legal services or proceedings; or (4) because you have temporarily relocated as a result of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

    Preserving Your Rights

    When faced with a situation where your rights may have been violated, it is important to preserve those rights. Many laws have short time frames in which to bring claims and some laws require you to first “exhaust administrative remedies,” in order to preserve claims prior to bringing anything to court.

    Not only do these laws have differing deadlines by which to preserve claims, but if you are an employee who is required to arbitrate any dispute with your employer, you have to be mindful of the time limits set forth in the arbitration agreement.

    Further, where there are various laws that might apply to your situation, it is important to determine which apply to you.

    For that reason, it is prudent to seek legal advice promptly if you experience discriminatory and/or retaliatory conduct in the workplace.

    What We Can do To Help You

    At the Law Office of Ruth Ann Azeredo, LLC, we have assisted hundreds of clients with discrimination and retaliation claims.

    We can provide advice as to what claims you may have and the process necessary to preserve your claims.

    We can also advise you on what actions you should take if you are seeking reasonable accommodations for your disability(ies) or religious beliefs.

    We can file administrative complaints on your behalf.

    We can represent you through the administrative complaint process.

    We can represent you in court or arbitration.

    We can attempt to negotiate a resolution of your claims.

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