The Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), which is administered by the Tennessee Human Rights Commission is the law that governs harassment laws in Tennessee workplaces. The primary objective of the THRA is to ensure that individuals are given equal opportunity in the workplace by, amongst other things, prohibiting all discrimination and harassment in employment that is based on one of the following protected classes of characteristics.
- Race – refers to all races
- Color – refers to someone’s skin pigmentation being lighter or darker than someone else’s
- National origin – an individual’s place of birth or his or her ancestor’s place of birth
- Religion – an organized system of belief or devotion to a religious faith or observance
- Creed – related to religion; system of religious beliefs
- Sex – male or female (what is noted on the person’s birth certificate)
- Age – applies to those 40 and older
- Disability – a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities
- Retaliation – an individual cannot be subject to an adverse employment action because they complained about discrimination or harassment based on a protected class.
The THRA covers nearly all Tennessee employers, including public and private employers with at least 8 employees. Furthermore, THRA protects all applicants and all current employees of a covered employer.
Filing a Harassment Complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission
In Tennessee, workplace harassment is essentially defined as:
“… any unwelcome verbal, written, physical conduct, or electronic communication that either degrades, or shows hostility or aversion towards a person because of that person’s race, color, national origin, age (40 and over), sex, pregnancy, religion, creed, disability, or veteran’s status or any other category protected by state and/or federal civil rights laws.”
If you are a victim of workplace harassment as described above, you may be eligible to file a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission if your case meets all of the following criteria:
- Your Employer has 8 or more employees – the THRA only covers employers with 8 or more employees. However, only 1 employee is needed for cases involving retaliation.
- You filed an allegation within 180 days – the allegation must be filed within 180 days of the last act of harassment unless it is a continuing violation
- It is based on a protected class – allegations of harassment must be based on one of the protected classes––race, color, national origin, religion, creed, sex, age, and disability.
- There was an adverse employment action – you must identify an adverse employment action that you have suffered as a result of the harassment. For example, a demotion, a reduction in pay, loss of employment benefits, a discharge, a suspension, etc.
Satisfying these criteria does not confirm that harassment has occurred, but will allow the agency to investigate the allegations to see if they have any merit.
Filing a Civil Lawsuit For Harassment Laws in Tennessee
If you are the victim of workplace harassment in Tennessee, you may also be eligible to file a civil lawsuit against your employer to seek compensation for any damages you have suffered as a result of that harassment. But, in order to succeed in a harassment lawsuit, you and your attorney will have to prove that the behavior in question was both:
- Unwelcome; and
- Severe or pervasive
The Tennessee Human Right Act sets the legal standards by which courts will judge civil lawsuits involving workplace harassment laws. The first of these standards requires the conduct in question to be unwelcome in order to be considered harassment. A hug or kiss between coworkers, for example, would only be considered unwelcome if either of the parties objected to being hugged or kissed.
Along with being unwelcome, the conduct in question must also be either severe or pervasive. For example, a single attempt at sexual molestation will constitute sexual harassment, because the act is so egregious and severe.
But, even if the harassing behavior is not severe, if it happens repeatedly and over a long period of time, this can constitute sexual harassment because it is so pervasive. An example of this would be constant and daily pressure from a supervisor to go out on dates or to perform sexual favors for him.
Finally, in order to succeed in a harassment lawsuit in Tennessee, you must prove that you suffered damages as a result of the harassment. This could be any negative employment action, such as a reduction in pay, a demotion, a discharge, a loss of employment benefits, being transferred or reassigned, or being passed over for a promotion.
Likewise, you any physical or psychological injury you suffer as a result of the harassment will give rise to damages. In fact, it is quite rare for there to be a case of harassment that is either severe or pervasive but was not, at the very least, psychologically traumatizing for the victim, in one way or the other.
Unfortunately, however, many people who are the victims of workplace harassment fail to tell anyone about the harassment or to seek the advice of a therapist or attorney. Instead, victims often try to suffer through the harassment and persevere, which often results in even further damage.
If you or someone you know is being harassed at work in Tennessee, know that Tennessee has laws in place to protect you and to hold your employer liable to you for any damages you suffer as a result. For more information on Tennessee Harassment laws, contact an experienced Tennessee employment law attorney. Strict timelines apply to both filing a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and pursuing damages in a civil lawsuit against your employer, so don’t delay.