Seattle Discrimination Attorney
Disclaimer: The information on this website does not, and is not intended to constitute legal advice. All information on this site is for general information purposes. No reader of this site should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information provided on this site without seeking legal advice from counsel.
Ed Hones is an employment lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who represents victims of workplace discrimination. The purpose of this page is to provide workers with a legal framework for workplace discrimination, and to also provide answers to common questions that workers have about workplace discrimination lawsuits. If you believe you were a victim of workplace discrimination, contact Hones Law for a free consultation.
Overview of workplace discrimination law in Washington
Washington’s anti-discrimination laws make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his/her/their membership in a protected class.
Put simply, an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, demote, pay less, or reprimand you for being a member of a protected class.
So, what are the protected classes in Washington? Here are just a few:
Protected classes in Washington State
- National origin
- Citizenship or immigration status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Military status
- Marital status
- Age (over 40)
- Use of trained guide dog or service animal by disabled person
Table of Contents
Types of workplace discrimination
Disparate Treatment Discrimination
Disparate treatment discrimination is the type of discrimination you likely think of when you think of employment discrimination. It simply means that the employer took an adverse employment action against an employee because of the employee’s membership in a protected class. Some examples of adverse employment actions are as follows:
- change in benefits
- change in compensation
- failure to hire
- failure to promote
Disparate impact discrimination
Disparate impact exists when an employer has a seemingly neutral policy that negatively, and disproportionately, affects employees who are members of a protected class.
Unlike disparate treatment, disparate impact allows employees to prove discrimination without establishing discriminatory motive. Instead, the employee need only show that the employer’s neutral policy falls more harshly on a protected class.
For example, in one Washington case, an employer’s meal policy prohibited employees from bringing their own lunch to work, and instead required the employees to eat food provided by the employer. However, the employer failed to provide adequate vegetarian options. And because a group of employees were members of a religious group that could not consume meat (protected class), the group of employees were forced to either go hungry or violate their religious practice. Because the employer’s neutral policy fell more harshly on a protected class, the court held that the employees had a viable disparate impact claim.1
Washington’s anti-discrimination statute also prohibits discrimination in the form of retaliation. Retaliation exists when an employee opposes or reports discrimination and his/her/their employer takes an adverse employment action against them in retaliation for their opposition or reporting.
To find out more about retaliation, see my retaliation page.
How do you prove workplace discrimination?
Put your employer on notice
If you are still employed, put your employer on notice by writing a respectful complaint to HR or management. If your company has a procedure for such complaints, make sure to follow that procedure.
A respectful complaint will accomplish the following important goals for you:
- Your complaint will serve as evidence that the discrimination happened.
- Your complaint will put your employer on notice.
- It will likely also stop the discrimination from continuing.
- It will demonstrate to your employer that you are willing to fight for your rights.
Round up your evidence
As we discussed in the first section of this guide, discrimination exists when an employer takes an adverse employment action against a worker because of the worker’s protected characteristic. So, to prove discrimination, we have a few important tasks:
- First, we must show that your employer knew of your protected characteristic.
- Second, that your employer doesn’t like people with your protected characteristic.
- Third, that your employer is lying about their “legitimate” reason for firing or disciplining you.
So, how do we prove these things? Simple, we provide the following:
- Verbal comments,
- Written comments,
- Adequate job performance and employer’s discipline history.
First, did your employer make any verbal comments, such as inappropriate jokes, to you or your coworkers about your protected class? Your memory of the events in the form of testimony counts as evidence.
Second, did your employer ever write down any comments about your protected class? Email, text, or any other writing works.
Third, did any co-workers witness the employer’s discriminatory conduct? Even if the co-worker isn’t willing to testify, evidence that they witnessed the employer’s conduct, such as texts to you, will help your case.
Fourth, have you been written up for poor performance? Your employer will undoubtedly claim that you were fired or disciplined for a “legitimate” reason. However, if you have no history of poor performance, then it’s more likely that the employer’s “legitimate” reason is a lie. We call that lie “pretext” in law, and it helps prove your case.
How much does it cost to hire a workplace discrimination lawyer in seattle?
Discrimination lawyers in Seattle usually don’t charge anything up front. Instead, they charge a contingency fee. Under a contingency fee, lawyers take a portion of whatever they win for you at trial or settlement. The contingency fee distribution is usually 60-70% to the worker and 30-40% to the lawyer (depending on whether you go to trial).
Contingency fees have a couple key benefits. First, workers that were just laid off or fired can rest easy knowing that they don’t have to pay a bunch of up front legal fees. Second, a contingency fee aligns your lawyer’s interest with your own interest. Whether or not the lawyer gets paid depends on the outcome of your case.
However, not all discrimination cases justify a contingency fee arrangement. Discrimination cases take a lot of time and money for a lawyer to work up. Therefore, the damages in the case need to be significant enough to justify the lawyer’s own investment.
Nevertheless, most lawyers will still work for an hourly rate even if the damages aren’t significant enough to justify a contingency fee arrangement.
How much money are workplace discrimination lawsuits worth?
Washington’s anti-discrimination statute gives workers the right to recover the actual damages sustained by the worker.2 Actual damages in discrimination cases include back pay, front pay, and emotional distress.
Back pay is available when you were terminated. Back pay is the amount of lost wages you missed out on because of your employer’s conduct.3
For example, if you were fired for an illegally discriminatory reason, and you were then out of work for two years, you have two years worth of back pay. Whatever your salary was before the termination, multiplied by amount of time you were unemployed, is the amount of back pay you can claim.
Front pay is the amount of future earnings you will miss out on because of the employer’s illegal conduct. You can miss out on future earnings because you had to take a job that pays less, or you can miss out on future earnings because your employer’s conduct diminished your earning capacity.
Finally, emotional distress and mental anguish are the emotional harms the employer caused the worker. The amount recovered for emotional distress and anguish depends on many factors. Some of those factors include:
- loss of enjoyment in life
- pain and suffering,
- fear and anxiety.
The dollar amount attributable to your emotional distress is highly variant and an employment attorney must consider the specific circumstances of your case.
Determining the value of your case
An experienced discrimination attorney will look at all of the above factors together, as well as a few others, in determining the value of your case. Some additional factors include:
- The strength of your proof of the employer’s wrongdoing,
- The amount of lost wages you’ve suffered,
- The amount of emotional suffering you’ve had to endure,
- Whether the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious,
- Whether your case will go before a judge or private arbitrator,
- Whether your employer has a record of mistreating workers.
Is it worth it to sue your employer for workplace discrimination?
The quick answer is “it depends.” Employment litigation is a good way to hold employers accountable and to get victims compensated for their loss. However, employment litigation is NOT a way to get rich quick.
If you are hoping to hit the jackpot and retire early, litigation is not your best option. Payment of damages is a method by which victims can become whole again. It is not a method to strike it rich. And many discrimination claims do not succeed.
With that said, the civil justice system is an incredibly important component of our democracy. It is one of the only ways for regular folks to hold powerful companies accountable. The system allows victims to tell their story and force companies to change their unfair practices, which in turn prevents harm to other workers and protects the community.
If you were the victim of an unfair employment practice and lost earnings, took a significant hit to your self-esteem, and/or incurred a substantial setback to your career trajectory, employment litigation may be a good option for you.
When should you contact a workplace discrimination lawyer?
If you are still employed
Generally, employment lawyers are not well-equipped to jump into the middle of an ongoing situation. The tools at our disposal are far more effective at remedying the harm after the fact.
Hiring a lawyer while you’re still employed can create even more friction between you and your employer. Your employer will likely view it as a threat, and it may paint a target on your back.
That is why I generally suggest my employed clients to write a respectful complaint about the discriminatory conduct to HR or management. Your company likely has a policy regarding the steps to take with such a complaint, which you should follow.
If your company fails to take action after you submit that complaint, then it’s time to contact a discrimination attorney.
If you were fired
If you were fired as a result of your employer’s discrimination, you should call a lawyer at once. At the very least, you should contact a discrimination attorney before signing anything.
Many times, especially when an employer knows it did something wrong, the employer will attempt to make you sign a severance agreement. Such an agreement can eliminate your ability to bring a legal claim in the future. Bringing a legal claim is an important right that each of us have. You should consult with an attorney before signing away any important legal right.
What is the statute of limitations for workplace discrimination?
The statute of limitations is the deadline to file your claim. If you fail to meet the statute of limitations deadline, your claim expires.
The statute of limitations varies depending on what kind of claim you file and where you file it.
Washington’s statute of limitations
The statute of limitations for actions involving discrimination under Washington’s Laws Against Discrimination is THREE YEARS.4
However, if you choose to pursue your claim with Washington’s Human Rights Commission, you must file your claim with the commission within SIX MONTHS.
Federal statute of limitations
If your claim involves the violation of federal anti-discrimination law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the ADEA, or the ADA, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 DAYS of the act of discrimination.
Employment Law is my Singular focus
If you were the victim of discrimination at work, you need a workplace discrimination attorney who knows the practice area well and can get you compensation.
I focus all my attention on one area of law so that you can rest assured that your employment matter is in the right hands.
Contact Hones Law today for a free consultation.