While traditionally, government employers are held to higher ethical standards for how they treat their employees, this does not mean that discrimination does not occur in the public sector. If you are a state or federal employee, and you are mistreated, you do have recourse. Here’s what you need to know about employment discrimination the public sector.
Discrimination Must Withstand Higher Scrutiny
Because entities that receive federal or state funds are considered ‘government’ or ‘public sector’ entities for the purpose of employment law, they must adhere to extremely high standards when the spectre of discrimination comes up. Normally, if a private sector employee alleges discrimination, they bring suit under statutory law (most often Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act). If a public sector employee alleges they have been discriminated against, they could conceivably raise constitutional issues.
While the U.S. Constitution does not specifically deal with discrimination, several amendments have been held to apply to the issue, most commonly claims under the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment holds that no one can be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law, and the Fourteenth establishes the equal protection of the law for all (thus establishing that violating those equal protections may be unconstitutional). While not every discriminatory act will rise to the level of a constitutional violation, it is a concern that public sector entities have to keep in mind when debating discrimination claims.
Differences Are Important
If you are a public sector employee and you believe you have experienced discrimination, there are certain differences between the path your case will take and that of a private employee’s. One of the most important things to keep in mind at the beginning is that most of the time, your case may be more effective against a supervisor or other individual, rather than against the company or entity you work for itself. For example, it could be against your direct supervisor rather than against the school district or federal agency where you work or worked. There are exceptions, but generally, unless your supervisor is a “final policy-maker,” their actions are their own, rather than those of your employer.
Generally, a public sector plaintiff in a discrimination case must show that there was discriminatory intent (with rare exceptions under certain laws). Additionally, you must show that you suffered harm due to the actions of the governmental entity, whether it was de jure or de facto. In other words, a public sector employee must show that they were discriminated against and that they suffered tangible harm based on that conduct. However, every case is different, and the best course of action is always to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney.
Seek Experienced Legal Help
It can feel confusing when you are discriminated against, regardless of whether your employer is a public or private one, but it is important to know how best to approach the issue. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled many of these cases over the years, and our firm is happy to work with you to help resolve yours.
Contact the offices of Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule an initial appointment.