State and federal laws leave many workers in the smallest of businesses unprotected from discrimination. Specifically, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees. State laws vary widely. 14 states, plus D.C., cover businesses with more than 1 employee under their anti-discrimination laws. 14 states provide no more protection than federal laws. The remaining states fall somewhere in between.
However, many cities have taken a stronger policy stance against discrimination and have passed ordinances to protect even those workers in the smallest of businesses.
For example, Louisiana has the distinction of offering the least protection to workers of any state (and somehow less protection than the federal law). Louisiana’s discrimination laws do not apply to workers who work for businesses with less than 20 employees. Pregnancy discrimination laws only apply to businesses with more than 25 employees. However, New Orleans takes a different approach. Defining an employer as a business who employs more than 8 employees, New Orleans as a city, has determined workers need more protection from discrimination than the state and federal laws provide.
Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the nation, is another example of a city offering greater protection to workers. Although Arizona offers no more protection than federal laws, defining employer as a business with more than 15 employees, Phoenix’s anti-discrimination laws protect workers who work for businesses with less than 15 employees.
In addition to expanding the definition of employer to offer more protection, some cities go even further and provide more remedies to those discriminated against. Take Seattle for example. While Washington state anti-discrimination law applies only to those working in businesses with more than 8 employees, Seattle’s anti-discrimination laws apply to all businesses with more than one employee.
Not only that, Seattle’s ordinance provides a private cause of action in state court. This is important because in some cities, a discrimination claim is handled only within the city. An employee who files a discrimination complaint against her employer makes her case to the city. In Seattle, one option is to file a complaint to the Office of Human Rights. The Office investigates the claim and determines if there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred and if so, facilitates a remedy, which could include back pay and benefits.
Alternatively, an employee can choose to privately enforce the Seattle law by suing the employer in state court. This not only provides for more remedies, but also makes the case public record.
Thus, even if you work in a very small business in a state where you do not appear to be protected from anti-discrimination laws, your city’s laws may afford you a remedy.