Imagine: you’re called into your boss’s office one day. You boss tells you that “it’s not working out” or that “the company has decided to go another way”. You leave the office with an escort to go get your things before they show you to the door.
You’ve been fired.
But you’re thinking that it doesn’t make sense. Your performance has always been good, the job has never had an issue with your conduct (or no worse than anybody else anyway). What gives? Why are YOU being fired?
Unfortunately for workers in New York, it doesn’t need to make sense. Unless you are under an employment contract, your job can fire you for whatever reason they want. Or even no reason whatsoever. When you’re fired, your only recourse is usually just to go find another job.
The one exception to this is when you are fired for an ILLEGAL reason. One of the most common illegal reasons for someone’s termination is discrimination.
In New York, it is flatly illegal for an employer to take any action which negatively affects an employee’s job because of employee’s age, race, creed (religion), color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, predisposition to genetic diseases or disabilities, familial status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. These actions can include terminations, demotions, denied promotions, unequal wages/benefits, and/or harassment.
Unfortunately, discrimination still happens with startling regularity. But how would somebody in the situation above know whether discrimination was the reason they were fired?
Here are 8 tell-tale signs to look for to figure out if you were a victim of discrimination
1) Statements/Acts of Discrimination
The most obvious sign to look for is direct evidence of discrimination. An example of this would be when an employer explicitly tells you that you can’t work there because you have one of the characteristics listed above, such as an employer saying: “You can’t work here because we don’t hire Muslims”. To a Muslim, this statement would be direct evidence of discrimination based on religion.
Similarly, direct evidence of discrimination can be found where an employer does something for which there is no possible non-discriminatory motive, such as drawing a Swastika on a Jewish employee's workstation.
2) Previous Statements Of Bias
Where an employer has voiced their attitude for or against about a particular characteristic in the past, it indicates that there may be a discriminatory bias. If an employer has stated that it doesn’t like working with pregnant women, and you were demoted right after your employer found out that you were pregnant, it stands to reason that bias against pregnancy (which would qualify as both sex discrimination and discrimination on the basis of your familial status) was the reason for your demotion.
3) History of Bias
Where an employer demonstrates a preference for or against a particular characteristic in the past, it also indicates that there may be a discriminatory bias. For example, where an employer permits a workplace atmosphere which is hostile towards homosexual employees, including regular insults, threats, or physical assaults, it may be indicative of a discriminatory bias against homosexuals even if your employer has not voiced such a bias in the past.
4) Disproportionate Representation
This is a less obvious sign of discrimination than others because it depends on the make-up of the hiring pool for the employer. However, if you’re the only one with a particular characteristic at your job, the reason for that may be discriminatory bias against that characteristic. For example, in a community comprised largely of Latinos, but with a relatively small Asian population, an employer who hires mostly Asian people may be discriminating.
5) Replaced By Someone Less Qualified
A normal meritocratic business will try to put the best people in each position. But if your replacement was not at least as qualified to be in your position as you were, logically, it means that the company thought that some quality other than ability was more important. This is abnormal and should be suspect. For example, if you happen to be older but you were fired and replaced by someone less qualified and significantly younger, your employer may have fired you based on your age.
6) Employer Violated Well-Established Policies To Your Detriment
Deviations from normal procedures which negatively impact your job may indicate that something is not right with how you’re being treated. As an example, if company policy states that you deserve a raise because of your level of performance, and you do not get that raise, it is strange. If everyone else with a similar performance got that raise and happen to be a different gender than you, it may be discrimination based on your gender.
7) Differential Discipline
Like all organizations, most employers have rules of conduct. If one breaks these rules, there are usually consequences. However, these consequences should be uniform or the employer’s preferences can appear suspect. For example, if a white employee curses at a customer and is reprimanded, while a black employee curses in a similar way at a customer but is fired, the uneven discipline may be a sign of discriminatory bias against black people.
8) Co-Workers Have Complained Of Discrimination
Listen to your co-worker if they’re complaining about your employer’s discriminatory bias and ask them for examples of how they were discriminated against. Your co-worker may or may not have in fact experienced discrimination. But where there is smoke, there might also be fire and you should be paying attention.
It is important to remember that these signs are only rules of thumb to help workers figure out whether they were a victim of discrimination. There may be other things that an employer may do to make you think that the reason you suffered negatively at work was because of discrimination. On the flip side, even where you have reason to believe that discrimination might have played a role in your negative treatment, you should bear in mind that there may still be non-discriminatory reasons for an employer doing what they did.
But keeping an eye out for these 8 things will help you figure out if anything negative which happened to you may have been because of illegal discrimination.
If anything in this list sounds like it may describe your situation with your employer, please call (914) 222-5786 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free consultation to speak with an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you get you what you're owed.