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Illegal Discrimination Against Federal Employees and Job Applicants

Federal government employees can expect legal protections against illegal discrimination at work usually comparable to protections that apply to private-sector employees. Remarkably, this was not always so. But a combination of congressional and presidential actions, along with important court decisions, has largely extended discrimination protections to almost all federal-sector workers like those employed by most federal agencies and departments.

Federal employees are protected in their jobs from discrimination based on several characteristics, including:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender (including pregnancy)
  • Age (beginning at 40)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Parental status
  • Political affiliation
  • Conduct that does not negatively impact job performance (except criminal convictions)

When people think of job discrimination, what comes to mind is unlawful hiring and firing. But many other unfair federal employer actions can also amount to illegal discrimination when based on protected characteristics. Unlawful discriminatory employment actions in federal jobs can include:

  • Failure to fairly promote
  • Harassment
  • Unfair distribution of benefits and perks
  • Retaliation for raising discrimination claims or supporting discrimination claims of others
  • Creation of hostile work environments
  • Failure to give pay raises or bonuses, or doing so unfairly
  • Inaccurate performance reviews
  • Refusal to implement reasonable workplace accommodations, usually for disabilities or religious practices
  • Unfair assignments
  • Unfavorable transfers

When a federal employee feels he or she has been discriminated against illegally in the workplace, there may be more than one legal course of action, depending on the type of discrimination, the branch of government employing the individual and the applicable laws. Most federal employment discrimination claims have remedies through federal agencies or courts, or both.

Usually the federal employee or job applicant discrimination claim begins by filing a claim with the particular agency or government branch involved. Each agency has its own procedures for handling job discrimination claims, and usually another avenue exists for using an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation.

If the complaining employee or applicant is not satisfied with the agency response, he or she should consider what appeal and review rights are available within the agency, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (known as the EEOC – the federal agency charged with enforcing most federal discrimination laws), and to federal court.

Remedies available in these suits may include compensatory money damages, attorneys fees, interest and others, but unfortunately not all employment discrimination remedies available to private employees may be available to federal employees. For example, usually federal employees cannot get punitive damages (those meant to punish the employer, above those that compensate for loss).

Federal employee discrimination lawsuit choices are incredibly complex and involve crucial deadlines and procedural requirements. Consultation with an employment attorney as early in the process as possible can help the employee preserve his or her rights to legal redress. In choosing a lawyer, experience with and knowledge of discrimination claims of federal employees (as opposed to private employees) can be vitally important.