Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Indiana Gets Low Marks On Employee Rights

Kevin Betz and Elizabeth Malloy, two local employment lawyers, co-author a story for Nuvo lamenting the lack of rights employees in Indiana have under state civil rights laws. Topping the list is the inability of employees to take their employers to court for discrimination if administrative relief is inadequate as permitted under the federal civil rights law. As the two described our toothless civil rights law:

Hoosier employees who want to bring a civil rights suit against their employer for discrimination face an insurmountable set of obstacles. To get a trial, the employee and the employer must agree in writing to submit the case to a judge. Most employers who have been accused of discrimination prefer to keep the matter out of court and refuse to consent to a trial. We were unable to find any case where an Indiana civil rights case has ever gone to trial under Indiana law. This is a testament to our State’s meaningless laws and the total void of any leadership in our State on this issue. Even if the employee can get the employer to consent, there is still no right to a jury trial. Even if the victim prevails in a trial before a judge or administrative proceeding, the damages are so limited it is a worthless undertaking.

Betz and Malloy describe an absurd state law which actually provides greater protections for smokers than employees who face discrimination, such as their right to practice the religion of their own choosing. As they describe it:

If an Indiana citizen is the victim of discrimination because he uses tobacco, he’s entitled to a full set of remedies: jury trial, complete damages, and attorney fees. However, if that same citizen becomes the target of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or age, she has no right to a jury trial or meaningful remedies.

Legislators could work on legislation to ensure religious freedom to workers. Instead, Betz and Malloy write, "Indiana legislators are concerned about their own religious freedoms, but not those of the general public. The legislature is more concerned about protecting an individual’s right to smoke than protecting an individual who experiences discrimination." The pair note that Indiana was recently ranked 8th out of 8 midwestern states by a human rights organization for its overall treatment of its citizens, contributing to the flight of talent to other states:

Companies seeking to hire are fleeing to other states where the citizens are protected by better civil rights laws. Most civil rights lawyers in other states prefer to pursue cases under their states’ civil rights laws because the federal law is so inadequate. In Indiana, however, these inadequate federal laws are simply the only protection individuals have.

Betz' and Malloy's assessment of Indiana's employment laws really hit the nail on the head. Let's hope some of our legislators take notice and devote more attention to these matters instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to litigate a lawsuit about its own self-interest in having Christian only prayers in the General Assembly.


Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. i hope the lack of comments that you recieve do not discourage you from blogging.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Not at all--the traffic to the site keeps increasing every day.