What does the law in Mississippi say about discriminatory firing on the basis of sex?
There are no specific state laws in Mississippi forbidding discriminatory firing practices on the basis of sex.
However, there are federal laws that protect women by prohibiting sex discrimination as a basis for terminating employment. The law is called Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Under the law, what is illegal?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it is illegal "to discharge any individual... because of [her] sex."
Who does the law cover?
Any employee who works for an employer with 15 or more employees and has been fired because she is woman can bring an action under the law.
Who enforces the law?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the courts enforce the law.
I think I was fired because I am a woman. What do I do now?
If you feel you have been fired because you are a woman, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They will complete an investigation on your behalf. If the commission finds "reasonable cause" to believe that discrimination has occurred they will attempt to work with your employer to remedy the situation. The commission has 30 days to reach an agreement with your employer. If, within this time, the EEOC's efforts do not fix your employer's discriminatory behavior, you will then be able to file a lawsuit. You are also able to file a lawsuit if, after its investigation, the EEOC does not find "reasonable cause" to believe discrimination has occurred.
For specific next steps, see How do I File a Claim.
Does it matter when I was discriminated against?
Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has a very strict time limit. You must file your charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of being discriminated against.
Determining distinct acts of discrimination can be difficult because you may not know right away that you have been discriminated against or you might think there isn't strong enough evidence. Also discrimination may not occur at one distinct time. Nevertheless, it is very important that you file your charge with the EEOC as soon as you suspect discrimination. If you wait too long your charge will be invalid.
How do I prove I was fired because I am a woman?
If Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) remedies prove ineffective, you can file a lawsuit in federal or state court. To prove to the court that you were fired because you are a woman, there is a three-part test.
The first part of the test has four sub-parts that you have to prove:
(1) You are a member of a protected class. Women are a protected class.
(2) You were qualified for the position you lost.
(3) You suffered an adverse employment action. In this case, the adverse employment action would be your employment termination.
(4) A man "similarly situated" (i.e. with similar qualifications) was treated more favorably.
Once your prove these four elements, your employer will have a chance to defend itself by proving there was a legitimate reason, not based on your sex, for your termination.
Then you have to prove the reason your employer gives is "mere pretext." Pretext means that it is just an excuse and not the real reason for your termination.
For more information on the steps involved in proving discrimination under Title VII at trial, see Disparate Impact/Treatment.
How might my employer respond to my complaint?
Your employer may deny your allegations and tell the court that you were fired because of your work performance, job skills, attendance or even budget cuts. Your employer may tell the court that it has policies or procedures you broke that justifies your firing.
If, once you file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or after your lawsuit begins, your employer begins to act hostile to you or you suffer further adverse employment actions, you may be able to file another claim for retaliation.
What happens if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the court doesn't think I was discriminated against?
If, once the EEOC has completed its investigation of your discrimination complaint, it finds that no discrimination has occurred, they will dismiss your complaint and notify you and your employer promptly. At this point, you may initiate a lawsuit despite the EEOC's findings.
If the court finds that you have not suffered sex discrimination, they may dismiss your case and award attorney's fees to the other party at your expense.
When might the court find in my employer's favor?
The court may find in your employer's favor if your employer can show there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for your discharge.
In one case, the court accepted the combination of the following reasons as a legitimate explanation for an employee's discharge: budget cuts, a poor score on a consistent evaluation used for determining who would be discharged, a breach of the employee's tuition agreement, the employee's difficulty in handling her patient load, and difficulties in communicating with supervisors.
If I prove my case and the court finds in my favor, what can I get?
The court may order your employer to stop any unlawful practice and reinstate you. The court may also award back pay that accrued within two years of the filing of your claim. The court may reduce this award by any wages you did or could have earned during this time. You could also win other monetary damages such as punitive damages. And finally, the court may also award you attorney's fees.
For more information, see What do I Get if I Win.
I did break a company policy, but I think sex discrimination also played a part in my firing. Can I still bring a claim?
When there may be two motives for your employer firing you — a legitimate one (breaking company policy) and an illegitimate one (sex discrimination) — the court calls this a mixed-motive case.
The law says as long as sex was a motivating factor in your termination, you have a claim against your employer, regardless of other factors that may be legitimate. What may be different is what you win. If there were legitimate reasons for your termination along with the discriminatory motives, the court cannot give you damages or order your reinstatement. However, you can get a declaration from the court stating you suffered discrimination and the court can order your employer to pay your attorney's fees.
The court recently clarified that in mixed-motive cases, you do not have to have stronger evidence or what the court calls a "heightened showing" of discrimination as compared to a case where sex discrimination was the only motive.
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