Employment Law FAQ

Employment Law And Sexual Harassment

The attorneys at Samuel J. Cordes & Associates represent employees only in cases involving employment discrimination, sexual harassment on the job and violations of related state and federal employment laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Q. What is employment discrimination?

A. Generally, employment discrimination occurs when an adverse action, such as a termination or demotion, is taken against an employee by his or her employer motivated wholly or substantially, by illegal considerations. The illegal considerations include the employee's race, sex, age (must be over 40), disability, national origin and religion as determined by federal, and in some cases, state law. However, employment discrimination does not occur merely because a person fits into a "protected" category and suffers an adverse employment action. An employer may have legitimate business reasons for the action, and it is the burden of the employee to prove the reasons given by the employer are not the real reasons and the true motivation is your race, sex, etc. (Loose translation: If your boss fires or demotes you because of your race, sex, age, disability, national origin or religion, you have suffered discrimination but you are responsible for proving discrimination was his reason.)

Employment discrimination laws also protect employees from a "hostile environment" based, for example, on a person's race or sex. For example, person subjected to constant racially (or age related) biased comments, jokes or other demeaning behavior by co-workers or management may have a case for hostile environment harassment.

Sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination because a person is subjected to unwelcome and offensive acts based upon sex. Sexual harassment has been generally broken up into two categories: (1) "hostile environment" in which you are subjected to severe and pervasive sexually offensive conduct, such as unwelcome touching and grabbing, pornography, sexually suggestive jokes or comments in the workplace that a reasonable person would find offensive or (2) "quid pro quo" sexual harassment, in which your employment conditions, such as a promotion or the threat of being fired, are dependent upon sexual favors or advances.

Q. If I feel I have been discriminated against or harassed, how do I protect my rights?

A. Federal anti-discrimination laws, as they relate to employment, require that an employee first file a "Charge of Discrimination" with the local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission within 180 days of the last act of discrimination or harassment (such as a termination) or the employee's rights to ever bring the matter to court are forever lost. In some cases we are able to extend this to 300 days, but, a case cannot be brought in Court unless the Charge is filed and the EEOC or PHRC has an opportunity to investigate your claim. Once the EEOC or PHRC has completed its investigation, you may then be issued a "Notice of Right to Sue" and only then are you allowed to file a lawsuit in United States District Court, and you must do so within 90 days of the "Right to Sue" being issued or once again, your rights are forever lost. If you feel you have been discriminated against or harassed because of your age, sex, race, national origin, religion or disability, you must act quickly in order to protect your rights!!!

Q. Do I need an attorney?

A. Yes. Employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases are complicated matters and involve substantial issues of law and fact that must be investigated by an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in this field. Very few attorneys are skilled or experienced enough to handle such complex and time consuming cases, and in fact, most attorneys will not accept employment related cases for those reasons, preferring to handle other less complicated and potentially more profitable cases. Every person has the right to stand up to the organizations or corporations that have wronged them. You should consult an attorney as soon as possible if you feel you have been discriminated against or harassed in order to make sure your rights are protected.

Q. How are attorneys fees and expenses determined and paid?

A. Employment related cases are complex and time consuming. They do not settle very easily and most or either taken to trial or settled only shortly before trial after a substantial amount of time and money has been invested in the case. Samuel J. Cordes & Associates handle these cases in several ways: On a contingency fee basis (fee is paid only if a recovery is made); on a retainer basis (up front money for both fees and costs); on an hourly basis (payment for time expended regardless of the outcome); on a payment of costs basis, or on a flat fee basis. WE make the determination on attorney's fees on a case by case basis, weighing all the factors involved. We will discuss which type of fee is appropriate for your case at the time of the initial interview.

Q. What remedies are available for discrimination or harassment?

A. There are many remedies available to the employee in a successful employment discrimination or sexual harassment case. These range from injunctions prohibiting further acts of discrimination, to reinstatement of employment to monetary damages. Generally, the specific damages available in the average discrimination case consist of reimbursement of lost wages and benefits from the date of the act (i.e. termination) to the date of trial (or settlement), called "back pay," reinstatement or "front pay" which is lost wages carried into the future from the date of trial as determined by the jury, compensatory damages, and less often, punitive damages. Additionally, if the employee wins their case, he or she may also be awarded attorneys' fees and costs by the judge. However, an employee is always required to "mitigate" or reduce his or her damages by finding other employment or otherwise replacing their lost income and an employee who fails to do so may have his or her recovery substantially reduced.

Q. Is technology important to my case?

A. Technology is more and more important in today's world. Lawyers now use case management software to track deadlines and to provide reminders, as well as document damages, witnesses, and valuable case data. Research available over the Internet and CD's replace the massive legal libraries that once were necessary. Interoffice e-mail and Internet e-mail allows for rapid and efficient communication-- often better then utilizing the telephone. Letter and documents may be e-mailed, edited, and returned, avoiding the delays of the mail and the inability to edit fax transmissions. Laptop computers can carry images of massive numbers of documents and depositions. During trial the laptop and digital projector can be used to present video depositions, exhibits and visual aides to assist the jury in understanding often complex and technical issues. Generally, the more complex the case and the more serious the damages, the more technology can be used to maximize the odds of winning and the amount of the verdict. You should ensure that the firm you hire has the necessary technology to present your case in the most effective way possible.

Q. What should I look for in a lawyer if I have been a victim of Discrimination?

A. You need an attorney who is experienced in discrimination cases because it is a very complicated area of the law. Employment and Sexual Harassment cases are frequently difficult. It is often hard to prove the facts and the legal issues are both relatively new and still changing. The attorney must have the skills to research and brief the legal issues and the litigation skills to present them persuasively in court. The attorney and the staff must be caring and responsive to the needs of the client as well as being a vigorous advocate.

Q. Why should you hire Samuel J. Cordes & Associates?

A. Samuel J. Cordes has successfully handled hundreds of employment law and sexual harassment cases. You will receive aggressive representation from an attorney who cares about you and your case.