Employers will typically see one of two types of claims from an employee: an employment discrimination or a wage claim. Below, I will discuss the lifecycle of an employment discrimination case.
The Legal Definition of Employment Discrimination
In South Carolina, employment discrimination claims are based on: race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, pregnancy, and disability.
In South Carolina, discriminatory conduct or unlawful employment conduct means “to fail or refuse to hire, bar, discharge from employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to the individual’s compensation or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the individual’s race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, or disability.” In other words, an employee could allege discrimination for failing to hire, failing to promote, a disparity in pay, or unfair discipline.
To prove an employment discrimination case, the employee must prove that the employer made the adverse decision regarding the employee based on an unlawful bias. Of course, it is difficult to get inside the head of a decision maker so these cases normally come down to circumstantial evidence.
The Lifecycle of an Employment Discrimination Case
It can be exhausting. An employee can file an employment claim with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (federal) or the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (state). A claim filed with the EEOC must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination while an employee has 300 days to file with the SCHAC. Other than that, the procedural aspects of both agencies are similar.
Typically, SCHAC will defer discrimination cases to the EEOC. The agency handling the issue will review the employee’s complaint to ensure that the basic grounds for a claim are met, such as the employers falling under the alleged law (e.g., discrimination claims only apply to employers with 15 or more employees).
Next, a charge will be issued to the employer (note: if you do not already have an attorney, this is the time to hire one). The EEOC will require a response, usually in the form of a Position Statement, which is required within 20 days. The agency will either issue a ruling on the claim or continue with its investigation. After the investigation, the agency will make a ruling on whether there is enough evidence to allow a case to continue. That is, whether “reasonable cause” as to the allegations exists. The agency usually pushes for mediation or conciliation at this point (if not earlier) with hopes of settling the claim. If the claim has not been settled, the case will either go to a hearing in front of the agency where filed (EEOC or SCHAC) or the employee can request a “right to sue” letter that allows for the case to be brought in the circuit court.
If the claim remains in the agency, a hearing official or three members of the SCHAC will hear it. The parties will then appear at the hearing to present their case in a trial setting. A hearing official or commission will render a decision, sometimes months later. Either party can ask for reconsideration and then appeal to the circuit court.
If the claim is brought in the circuit court, the employer will be served with papers. An answer will then be required in 20 days. After that, parties will engage in discovery including interrogatories, document requests, requests for admissions, and depositions. Then you will appear to present you case in the circuit court. This will normally take two or more days from jury selection to the end of the case. The jury will reach a verdict and issue damages if the employee prevails. Again, either party can appeal.
Damages in Employment Discrimination
They include both compensatory and punitive damages for intentional discrimination based on a person’s race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, disability, and genetic information. Compensatory damages include out of pocket expenses caused by the discrimination, such as cost for job search or medical expenses, as well as emotional harm suffered, such as inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. Punitive damages may be awarded to punish an employer that has discriminated with malice or with reckless indifference. There are limitations on compensatory and punitive damages that may be recovered. For employers with 15 to 100 employees, the cap is $50,000; with 101-200, the limit is $100,000; with 201-500, the limit is $200,000, and with 500 or more employees, the limit is $300,000.
About the Author
Wesley Henderson is an attorney with Henderson & Henderson. His practice focuses on meeting the needs of businesses and startups, including employment litigation. He can contacted by phone at 843-212-3188 or by email.
- S.C. Code Ann. 1-13-10 et seq.; Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964; Americans with Disabilities Employment Act; Age Discrimination Act; Pregnancy Discrimination Act; Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
- S.C. Code Ann. 1-13-80.
- Civil Rights Act of 1991.
- See Civil Rights Act of 1991.