5 Ways to Fight Back Illegal Discrimination or Harassment
- Document instances in a journal.
Write down, at the time it happens if possible, each and every instance of discrimination and harassment. The best memory is less reliable than the faintest ink. Write down names, dates, times, locations-any detail you can remember. Do your best to recreate relevant conversations verbatim. Write down exactly what you remember. Keep these notes in an organized place, like a folder, notebook journal or computer. Do not keep such notes on any machine owned by your employer.
Write down each instance of discrimination or harassment no matter how small or trivial. Often, the big picture of discrimination and harassment is made up, in whole or in part, in regular but small interactions.
- Report inappropriate conduct to HR or an appropriate person.
Consider making a formal internal complaint. In general, the law requires a victim of harassment to report illegal conduct to the company. Actionable conduct must be based on your color, race, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, or other protected category OR protected activities like whistleblowing on certain illegal activity or reporting discrimination or harassment.
It might be prudent to consult a private employment attorney before you make a formal complaint. Retaliation for reporting illegal discrimination/harassment is itself illegal, but most people would rather have a bad job rather than a great lawsuit. In other words, you should weigh your options and ramifications for making a complaint.
- Stay positive. Don’t Quit.
Don’t give your harasser or discriminator a legitimate reason to fire you. Continue to be good at your job. Follow all of the legal orders or directions you receive, even if you disagree with them. Present a good attitude.
In the case of harassment, be firm in letting your harasser know that his/her conduct is not acceptable and is unwanted. Document those communications. Communicate this in a professional and non-threatening way.
If you can avoid it, do not quit your job. In certain circumstances, you can quit and, legally, it is considered a “constructive discharge.” The legal standard is whether the working conditions are so harsh and unbearable that no reasonable person would continue to work under such conditions. If you choose the constructive discharge route, you open yourself up to second guessing by judges and juries. If you are found to have voluntarily resigned, then you may give up any claim you have to damages for losing your job.
- Complain to the EEOC or another appropriate agency.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is the federal agency charge with enforcing most workplace discrimination and harassment laws. Some states have agencies to enforce state and federal laws. You should research the situation in your state.
These governmental agencies often can help resolve issues early. Keep in mind that they are overburdened, and so they often pick their battles carefully. In any event, you must file with these agencies to proceed with any claim. Whether or not to file with a governmental agency is a very fact-specific decision.
- Talk to a lawyer.
Employment-based illegal discrimination and harassment situations are very complex and each one is unique. If you are having serious problems at work in this regard, consider talking with an experienced employment law attorney. You should consider paying for an extended strategic planning session to discuss and plan detailed responses to your circumstances. Chances are your company has a legal department and HR department as well as outside law firms helping it deal with your situation. You should lawyer up to make sure you are making good decisions.