Workplace Discrimination

What is workplace discrimination?

Workplace (or employment) discrimination is when a person or group of people are treated differently and unfairly from other people at work. To be legal discrimination, it has to be because they are part of a protected category like race, sex, age, or religion.The Kentucky Civil Rights Act was created to protect workers from discrimination at their jobs.

What types of discrimination and harassment are against the law?

No one can treat you differently, refuse to hire you, pay you less, give you different work rules or conditions, harass you, demote or fire you at your job because of your:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy
  • Familial status
  • Marital status
  • Getting public assistance
  • Disability
  • Perceived disability
  • Your employer not giving you a reasonable accommodation for your disability
  • Age(older than 40)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Genetic information
  • Membership on a local human rights commission
  • Support of someone who is complaining about illegal discrimination
  • Own complaints of illegal discrimination
  • Trying to get or getting workers compensation
  • Use of or asking for Family Medical Leave
  • National Origin (but they can ask for proof that you can work in the U.S.)

You can’t be fired, harassed,or treated differently at your job because of a bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can be part of the reason you don’t get hired, but it can’t be the only reason.

What are some common examples of discrimination and harassment?
  • Promotions are only offered to white employees, even though workers of other races have the same training, experience, and work performance.
  • Your co-workers call you bad racial names at work and your supervisor knows about it but does nothing.
  • You ask your boss if you can use an empty office for prayer during your breaks and they tell you no. But then they let another employee use it for breaks. That could be religious discrimination.
  • Your supervisor asks you for a date or says personal or sexual things to you. You don’t want a personal relationship and don’t like the comments. The supervisor tells you that if you don’t cooperate you won’t get a raise or a promotion
  • Your boss won't promote married women because they think the women will get pregnant and leave. Or they won't promote parents of young children because they think it gets in the way of work duties.
  • Your manager yells at you and treats you badly because you don’t speak English well.
  • Your boss demotes you when you are 56, after working at the job for 20 years. They say it’s because you are “too old to learn new things.”
  • Your boss demotes you, fires you or takes other action against you because you complained about unlawful discrimination. Or because you supported another worker’s complaints of discrimination.
  • Your boss fires or demotes you while you are on Family Medical Leave or because you asked for Family Medical Leave.
  • Your boss is paying you (a female) less than he pays men in the same or almost same position and your skills and experience are the same or better than the male worker.
What should I do if I am being discriminated against or harassed at my job?

If you are being discriminated against or harassed at your job, you should:

  • Write down things that happen to you that do not feel right.
  • Write down the date and time, and the names of anyone else that was there.
  • Take notes when you talk to your supervisor. Write down comments they make.
  • Report your worries about discrimination and harassment to your supervisor, the human resources department or another supervisor that you trust. Put your complaint in writing and keep a copy for yourself. Save copies of your emails you sent with details about your complaints of discrimination. These can support your claims.
  • Keep copies of your job evaluations and any disciplinary actions taken against you.
What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Kentucky?

The Kentucky Civil Rights Actas well as several Federal Civil Rights Acts, make it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on:

  • Race•Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age (older than 40)
  • Because the person is a qualified individual with a disability•Because the person is a smoker or nonsmoker. But they have to follow any company rules about smoking.

Kentucky also has laws that protect people from discrimination based on HIV or AIDS status, black lung disease or efforts to get workers compensation benefits.

If I think I have been discriminated against at work, how do I file a discrimination claim?

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR), which is a state agency, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),which is a federal office. The 2 agencies work together so you don’t have to file a claim with both. You do need to tell the agency that you file with that you want to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency. If your workplace is small and has between 8 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the KCHR, since the Kentucky statute covers smaller employers not covered by federal law. You do not have to file with the KCHR first to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. If you don’t have a lawyer, you might want to see if the KCHR can help you resolve your claim without filing in court.

To file a claim with the KCR, go to the KCHR Website for more information.

To file a claim with the EEOC, go to for more information. 

What are the deadlines for filing a claim?

There are strict deadlines for filing an employment discrimination claim.

For KCHR to act on your behalf, you have to file with them (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date the discrimination happened.

For EEOC to act on your behalf, you have to file with them (or cross-file with the KCHR) within 300 days of the date the discrimination happened.

Note: you may have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, so it is important to file your claim as soon as possible. You don’t need a lawyer to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies, but it can help to talk to one before filing.

What happens after I file a claim with the EEOC?

When your claim is filed, the EEOC gives you a copy of your claim with your claim number. Within 10 days, the EEOC also sends you a notice and a copy of the claim to your employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:

  • Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
  • Ask the employer to give them a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim. Your charge is then given to an investigator.
  • Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction

If the EEOC decides to investigate your claim, they might interview witnesses and gather documents. The time it takes to do an investigation depends on a lot of different things. On average, it takes the EEOC around 6 months. With mediation, a claim can often be settled in around 3 months. Once the investigation is complete, they let you and the employer know the result.

If EEOC decides that there is no probable cause to believe discrimination happened, they send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court.

If the EEOC decides that there is probable cause to believe discrimination happened, they try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement can't be reached, your case is referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases). The legal staff decides if the EEOC should file a lawsuit.

If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit they give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”

How do I take a case to court?

If your case is decided in your favor by an administrative agency, you may not need to hire a lawyer or file a lawsuit. To finish up your case, you probably have to sign a release of your legal claims.

If your case is not resolved by the KCHR or EEOC, and you want to continue with it, you have to file a case in court.

Discrimination and harassment cases are very complicated. If you want to take a case to court, it is strongly recommended that you talk to a lawyer.

You can’t file a federal employment discrimination case in court without going to the EEOC first. The EEOC has to dismiss your claim or fail to resolve your claim. This is called "exhaustion" of your administrative remedy. However, “exhaustion” is not needed to go ahead with your state discrimination case in court.

Federal law limits the award you can get as damages in your employment discrimination case. Because Kentucky law does not limit the award you can get for “emotional pain and suffering damages”, many Kentucky lawyers choose to file these cases in state court under state law only. But most cases can be brought in either state or federal court, using either state or federal law or both.

Some lawyers also believe it is easier in Kentucky state court to avoid summary judgment. Summary judgment is a dismissal of the case prior to trial after presenting the facts to a judge.

Before you can file a case in court based on a federal claim, the EEOC has to issue a notice known as "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" or "Notice of Right to Sue." A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim has to be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you get the notice. These deadlines are called the"statute of limitations." If you got one of these agency dismissal notices, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you might not be able to file a discrimination case.

Discrimination and harassment cases are very complicated. If you want to take a case to court, it is strongly recommended that you talk to a lawyer.


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