Tennessee Workplace and Indirect Discrimination

December 19, 2007 by Jim Higgins

There’s a certain conception of workplace discrimination that I’d like to correct in this week’s Tennessee Law Blog. Too often Tennessee workers whom HHP partner Attorney Rick Piliponis and I have met with do not realized that they were being discriminated against, though they were passed over for promotions or denied benefits, because no one was mean to them or made inappropriate comments.

There are two main requirements in Tennessee workplace discrimination lawsuits, and neither of them requires that your employer be mean to you. These two Tennessee workplace discrimination requirements are:

  1. Protected class - Federal and Tennessee employment law prevents discrimination in the Tennessee workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, age, gender, or disability.
  2. Financial loss – a determinable financial loss whether this is denial of time off, promotion, or transfer or other prejudicial treatment based on your protected class. If you quit your job because of workplace discrimination and found a higher paying one, then it will be difficult to demonstrate losses in a Tennessee discrimination lawsuit.

In fact, your Tennessee employer can be mean to you and can treat you unfairly and different from the other workers. Title VII and other federal and Tennessee discrimination laws only state that your employer can’t be mean or unfair because of your protected class. When your protected class causes you and others of your protected status to suffer unfair or unequal pay or perks, then you should speak with a Nashville, Tennessee discrimination attorney.


Disparate Impact and Tennessee Discrimination


On a basic level, workplace discrimination lawsuits are the same: they require proof of discrimination based upon a characteristic protected by law (protected class). Because they are similar, I am going to focus on workplace age discrimination, though age, sex, veterans’ status, and another characteristic protected by discrimination law when I discuss disparate impact.

Disparate impact occurs when corporate policy creates a situation in which members of a protected class are put at a disadvantage. Often, this discrimination is unintentional, though it often takes legal representation to force the company’s hand and provide backpay for wages, promotions, or other moneys Tennessee employees would have earned if they weren’t a member of a protected class.

Disparate impact developed through a 1971 Supreme Court case that decided:

“[G]ood intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as 'built-in headwinds' for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability."

Disparate impact is not always easy to detect. Its standards are applied to all employees, though it indirectly discriminates as can be shown through losses in pay or promotion. A famous case of this involved providing incentives that put workers 40 years of age or older at a distinct disadvantage.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Age discrimination as an unintended effect of employment policies was the basis of the 2004 Supreme Court case Smith, et al. v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, et al. Mr. Smith and other police officers in the lawsuit were over 40 years old, a characteristic protected by law under ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act). While the City of Jackson did not mention age as a requirement for its benefits, a new policy it enacted put older officers at a disadvantage.

City officials wanted a positive revision to their police officer pay program. They wanted to retain the new officers they had recruited, so they offered wage increases to all officers and dispatchers, though a larger wage increase to those police officers with less than five years of service. This had the effect of putting employees with more than five years at a disadvantage--and most of these employees were 40 or older. Although on paper no specific group was being discriminated against and although city officials might never have meant to put older employees at a disadvantage, protected workers found themselves not being paid fairly.


Nashville, Tennessee Workplace Discrimination Attorneys


If you believe you have been a victim of age or other employment discrimination in Nashville or anywhere in Tennessee, the Nashville employment attorneys at Higgins, Himmelberg & Piliponis at (615) 353-0930 or fill out our contact form to speak with a qualified Tennessee discrimination attorney about the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit.