The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission recently issued guidance to employers regarding a type of discrimination that many New York workers might have regarded as outside the scope of civil rights protections: domestic violence.
True, victims of domestic violence are not expressly contemplated by federal discrimination statutes such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nevertheless, the EEOC's recent Q&A fact sheet advises that the protections against discrimination offered by both may apply to such victims, albeit under specific circumstances.
For example, an employer's termination or refusal to hire a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault based on gender stereotypes -- such as a belief that battered women bring drama to the workplace -- would likely constitute disparate treatment based on sex, which is prohibited by Title VII.
Critics of the EEOC's publication, however, observe that termination decisions not based on race, color, sex, natural origin, or religion might withstand court scrutiny. For example, an employer's decision to terminate an abuse victim solely because the situation threatened the safety of other employees might be unimpeachable. Even in that instance, however, the employer might have to demonstrate concrete facts proving that the decision was not based on gender. One such scenario might involve an employee with an abusive partner who had not only a demonstrated history of violence, perhaps involving a weapon, but also against whom a protective order had been issued.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault but fear disclosing that information to your employer, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you of your legal options. Perhaps a proactive approach, advising your employer that a former partner was violent and shouldn't be allowed to visit you at the workplace, will protect both your safety and your job.
Source: Inside Counsel, "EEOC warns employers of discrimination related to domestic violence," Mary Swanton, Dec. 21, 2012