At some point, activists who work on discrimination issues must face the inevitable question — to take legal action or not? Maybe a person has experienced sexual discrimination in the workplace, which prevents her from moving up the corporate ladder. Or it could be more subtle, such as when employees of a certain ethnicity are favored over another in terms of workload.
Like it or not, discrimination is still present in society, though it may be more veiled than in previous generations. And because discrimination is more nuanced than before, it becomes more necessary to consider legal counsel when a person suspects he or she has been discriminated against.
According to Carla Zolezzi, Information and State Representative of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a person has the right to claim discrimination when that person feels that he or she has been discriminated against in terms of age, disability, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, retaliation, sex, or sexual harassment.
It helps to know that organizations such as the EEOC and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are there to provide legal counsel for issues of discrimination.
“Usually when we have people and complaints about it, we have them call EEOC,” said Emma Catague, who works as Community Organizing Program Manager for the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center in Seattle. “You can file a complaint against your employer.” Because discrimination can sometimes slip under the radar, it is vital to become more aware of the prevalence of discrimination in our society and institutions. Catague added, “I always think, ‘What is considered discrimination?’ We are being discriminated every day, but it is subtle.”
Taking legal actions against an employer does have its risks. Although the law protects an individual from retaliation caused by taking legal action, an individual risks possible alienation and the stress from exposing the discriminatory practices of one’s employer.
Tracy Lai, instructor and historian at Seattle Central Community College, said, “A negative consequence is getting singled out. You don’t know how else it could affect other people.”
The risks also entail setting future precedents for those considering taking legal action. Catague is careful to mention that even though one’s case may be strong, weak representation could prove disastrous for not only the plaintiff but also for future claimants seeking legal precedents.
Fortunately, recourse is available for those suffering the slings and arrows of discrimination in the workplace. Knowing the perils of the legal process, as well as the consequences of taking legal action, can provide a potential claimant with a balanced perspective when considering his or her options.