Oregon’s Anti-Discrimination Laws Expanded for Wage Issues
Generally, an employer may fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all. This is known as “at-will” employment. Likewise, an employee may quit under the same terms. However, the at-will doctrine is not absolute. For example, an employer cannot discriminate against a person based on race or gender. Some may not know that an Oregon employer could not discriminate against an employee because the employee “has made a wage claim or discussed, inquired about or consulted an attorney or agency about a wage claim.” ORS 652.355. However, some confusion came out of the wording of the law. What if the employee was not threatening a wage claim, but simply inquiring about their wages.
With the new additions to Oregon law, this issue is clear. It is unlawful to discriminate or retaliate because the employee has: “Inquired about, discussed or disclosed in any manner the wages of the employee or of another employee.” HB 2007. It is still unlawful to discriminate based upon the wage claim, but now an employer may not even discriminate because the employee discusses or compares wages. This is important because often this is how an employee learns he/she is not being paid all their wages.
Employers Cannot Discriminate Because of Complaints to Management About Your Wages
Lots of questions can arise inside the context of wage retaliation and wage discrimination cases. Fairly recently, Schuck Law addressed one of these issues. The question was whether internal complaints regarding the wages paid was sufficient to warrant protection. In the case we prosecuted, the employee alleged that he complained that the employer was not paying him his overtime wages. The employee further alleged that he told the employer that he would not work an extra day unless the employer agreed to pay him his overtime wages. No one disputed that the employer fired the employee immediately after he did not come in to work an extra day’s shift. Nor was there any dispute how their pay system worked and that the wages received by employees working on a piece rate were almost exactly the same whether the employee worked overtime or not. Instead, the questions litigated were that (1) the pay scheme was lawful payment of overtime, and (2) internal complaints to management were insufficient to protect the employee from retaliation or discrimination. These legal issues were litigated hotly in the District Court for the District of Oregon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and there was even a request for the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the issue. In the end, the Court found that the employees were due overtime wages and that internal complaints to management provided protection to the employee. Brunozzi v. CCI. This means that when an employee has a question about their pay, whether right or wrong, the employer is not allowed to discriminate or take adverse employment action.
Employers Cannot Discriminate or Retaliate Because You Spoke with a Lawyer about Wages
It is also unlawful for employers to retaliate or discriminate against you because you spoke with a lawyer about your wages or filing a wage claim. The law specifically discusses this protection. It is important that employees be able to get advice regarding their wages to determine if a wage claim exists and that the employee is protected from retaliation and discrimination because they chose to do so. Oregon does protect employees in this situation.
Employers Cannot Discriminate Because an Employee Spoke with BOLI about Wages
Similar to lawyers, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, also known as BOLI, can prosecute wage claims. Also similar to lawyers, employees who discuss their wages and bringing of a wage claim with BOLI have some protection. Employers are not allowed to discriminate or retaliate against employees who are discussing wage complaints with BOLI.
Employers Cannot Discriminate Because an Employee Filed a Wage Claim
Employers also cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who file wage claims. It is irrelevant whether the employee files the wage claim with a lawyer, BOLI, or chose to file their wage claim on their own. When the employee files the wage claim, protection starts forbidding employers from retaliating or discriminating against the employee. It is important to note, these protections do not mean bad employers will not retaliate or discriminate against them. Instead, it means that should the employer choose to do so, there can be consequences.
Damages for Unlawful Retaliation and Discrimination
Similar to other types of retaliation and discrimination, employees who have suffered adverse employment action because of their protected rights regarding their wages, can recover damages. These damages can include such things as back pay and front pay (the wages you lost because of you were terminated, suspended, laid off, demoted, etc), and reinstatement. This is important because the wages you lose because of the employer’s retaliation or discrimination is the hammer that makes employers reconsider performing unlawful conduct.
Wage Retaliation and Discrimination Lawyers
The wage claim attorneys (lawyers) at Schuck Law, LLC focus their law practice on wage claims. This includes wage claim retaliation and discrimination lawsuits. Our wage claim retaliation and discrimination lawyers regularly prosecute Oregon wage claim and Oregon wage retaliation and discrimination lawsuits for employees and have significant experience either retaliation or discrimination because they inquired about or brought a wage claim against their employer. In addition to the claims for damages, an employee may also sue to recover their costs, disbursements, and attorney (lawyer) fees incurred in prosecution of the wage retaliation or discrimination lawsuit. This allows the wage claim attorneys at Schuck Law, LLC to take most wage claim retaliation or discrimination lawsuits on a contingency fee basis.
The wage claim retaliation and discrimination attorneys (lawyers) at Schuck Law, LLC prosecute Oregon wage discrimination and retaliation lawsuits throughout Oregon, including but not limited to, Portland, Astoria, Beaverton, Bend, Portland, Clackamas, Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Portland, Hillsboro, Hood River, Klamath Falls, Portland, Lincoln City, Madras, McMinnville, Portland, Medford, Portland, Sandy, St. Helens, and Tillamook. The wage claim attorneys (lawyers) at Schuck Law, LLC also prosecute Washington class action wage claim lawsuits throughout Washington, including, but not limited to Seattle, Vancouver.