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Dictionary: Employment Discrimination and Harassment

As with many other legal topics, the realm of employment discrimination and harassment seems to have its own language.  The following are some common terms and phrases that often arise in discrimination and harassment claims.

ADA:  Short for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations. 

ADEA:  Short for the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the ADEA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of age for workers over the age of forty.  Only employers with more than twenty employees are required to comply with the ADEA.

AG:  Short for "Attorney General," usually referring to the U.S. Attorney General.  The AG often becomes involved in discrimination and harassment claims, as in some situations the U.S. Attorney General's office is entitled to file suit on behalf of a victim of discrimination or harassment.

At-will:  A term used to describe many employment relationships.  In a nutshell, "at-will" means that an employee can be fired for any reason, or for no reason at all. However, even an at-will employee is entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws.  If an employee is terminated in violation of anti-discrimination laws, he or she may be able to successfully bring an action against the former employer.

B.F.O.Q.:  Short for the phrase "bona fide occupational qualification," a B.F.O.Q. may absolve an employer from liability for discrimination when there is a legitimate reason to require, for example, that all of the employees working a particular job be of the same sex or age.  The successful use of a B.F.O.Q. defense is rare.

Complainant:  A term used to describe a person bringing a claim of discrimination or harassment.  If the matter proceeds to a court of law, the complainant may begin to be referred to as the plaintiff or the petitioner.

EEOC: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a part of the federal government, responsible for investigating and hearing claims of workplace discrimination or harassment. Usually, an alleged victim of workplace discrimination or harassment is required to file a claim with the EEOC prior to initiating a private lawsuit.  

ER:  Short for "employer," often used when discussing workplace harassment or discrimination claims.

FMLA:  Short for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies to employers who have more than fifty employees on their payroll.  The FMLA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who choose to take time off of work to care for certain medical needs of their own, or to care for their family members, including newborn and adopted children.

Hostile work environment:  The basis for a sexual harassment claim, a "hostile work environment" is created where the presence of demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes, threats, or overall atmosphere is so pervasive as to create an intimidating and offensive work environment.

Quid pro quo:  A Latin phrase meaning "something for something." Quid pro quo is a type of sexual harassment in which the harasser asks for a sexual favor in return for providing an employment benefit, such as a raise, continued employment, or other favorable treatment.

Same-sex harassment:  The type of harassment that occurs when a male sexually harasses a male, or a female sexually harasses a female.

Title VII:  Short for Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits, among other things, discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex.

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