In 2015, the EEOC received approximately 90,000 employment discrimination claims. That is the number of Americans who realized they were the victims of discrimination and chose to speak up by filing a federal claim. Yet, it does not approach the true number of people affected by discrimination every year.
Many people choose to stay quiet and not report the discrimination. They fear retaliation (such as job loss) or do not want to invest the energy and time they believe it will take to pursue justice. Others have lived with discrimination all of their lives and do not believe there will be a recourse. By not speaking up, however, they allow the discrimination to continue.
If you face discrimination, should you speak up? What will happen if you do?
Will you face consequences for speaking up?
In Oregon, it is illegal for an employer to treat someone differently on account of a protected class, including race, sex, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation and even an expunged juvenile record. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a discrimination claim, filing a workers' compensation claim, raising a concern about the workplace and taking certain other legal actions.
Unfortunately, it is not rare for an employer that has already broken the law to break it again. It is a sad reality that you may lose your job or face additional turmoil at work for bringing a discrimination claim against your employer. If that happens, you can bring your employer to court and receive compensation for the damages you have suffered as a result of its actions.
What are the benefits to speaking up?
As a person with an income and livelihood to protect, it makes sense that you would weigh the benefits and risks before choosing to speak up. Yet, I have helped many people raise their voices and come out of this better off than they were before. Here is what speaking up could do:
- Stop the discrimination. In many cases, one or two people are causing the discrimination, not the entire organization. By speaking up, you can stop it in its tracks. If your organization is widely discriminating against people, speaking up will hold it accountable and prevent other people from facing the same things you have had to face.
- Get your job back. If you have been fired, demoted or otherwise damaged on account of discrimination, bringing a claim can help you get your job back or get the compensation you would have received had the discrimination not occurred. If, due to the hostile work environment you have faced, you would prefer not to return to your job, you may be able to receive front pay and other lost earnings while you look for a new job.
- Receive compensation for your suffering. Beyond lost earnings, you may also receive compensation for the emotional damages your employer has caused. Some people are also successful at asking a court for punitive damages - damages that don't replace an economic loss but rather punish the employer for its unlawful actions.
Perhaps most importantly, if you choose not to speak up, the discrimination will continue - against you and other people like you. It takes bravery to speak up, but if you do, the law will protect you and so can I.