Two former educators at a Catholic high school, both of whom were laid off in what the school claims was an effort to cut costs, are now alleging that the school discriminated against them because they are African American.
One of the educators was a classroom physical education teacher, and the other had been elevated to Dean of Counseling.
For its part, the school denies the allegations. The school states that it laid off four employees because of budget constraints. The counterpoint to this is that the PE teacher was the only black teacher at the school.
While the two former employees are willing to discuss their concerns with those who ultimately are responsible for the school, they have said that filing a lawsuit is certainly an option on the table.
Layoffs cannot be a cover for unlawful discrimination
As this story illustrates, layoffs are an unfortunate part of the cycle of every industry.
Most businesses, including private schools, have to make tough decisions from time to time about which staff to retain. They are allowed to do so under both California law and federal law.
However, a business cannot use a layoff as a backdoor mean of illegally discriminating against employees.
For starters, this means the decision as to whom will lose their jobs has to be on the basis of objective, non-discriminatory criteria. In other words, no company should get away with discrimination just by labeling their illegal behavior a layoff.
The disparate impact rule applies
Employers may also be subject to what commonly gets referred to as a disparate impact rule.
The disparate impact rule requires employers to make sure that their layoff, or any other employment decision for that matter, will not disproportionately impact a protected group in a negative way.
To give an example, if an employer is laying off 100 employees out of a workforce of 300, and 80 of the employees getting laid off happen to be over 40 or of a certain race, then the employer may need to re-think how they go about the layoff.
Otherwise, even if the employer did not intend to discriminate and even if the criteria for the layoff seems to be neutral, a former employee may have a claim against his or her former employer based on disparate impact.
Laid off employees have options
Although this hopefully provides an overview, the laws surrounding discrimination and layoffs can depend heavily on the circumstances.
The bottom line is that employees in big and mid-sized companies in the greater Los Angeles area do not have to take an unfair layoff lying down. The may have legal options under both federal and California law.