Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace

In Tennessee, as in other parts of the country, sexual or gender discrimination is a hotly contested issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) keeps statistics on filed claims and resolutions within their system. In 2008, there were over 28,000 claims filed alleging gender discrimination. For the claims that were successfully resolved, over $109 million was paid out to aggrieved employees. While it is arguable that the country has made progress on gender issues, these statistics show that there is still significant gender and sexual discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin, and religion. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state and local governments. In Tennessee, the law is further strengthened to protect employees who take action to enforce their rights. Under Tennessee’s law, it is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee who asserts her rights. If they do, the employee has a further claim for unlawful retaliation.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work as long as the jobs are “substantially equal.” Title VII takes it one step further and does not require a substantially equal job at the same employer, but can analyze pay on a more industry-wide standard.

In Tennessee, the damages recoverable can be considerable. For a first violation of the Equal Pay provision under the law, the employee can recover their unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees and court costs. If the violation is knowingly done by the employer, the employee can also recover further damages, called liquidated damages, in an amount equal to the unpaid wages awarded. If the employer does it a second time, the employee can recover their damages again, plus two times the amount of wages as liquidated damages. For a third knowing violation, the employee can recover up to an additional three times their wages in liquidated damages.

At the Higgins Firm, we represent individuals who have been discriminated against based upon their gender and those individuals who have not received fair wages based solely upon their sex.

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