Employee Rights and Protections

Employment Discrimination in Kentucky: The Bad, The Good and What You Can Do

The Bad:

Under Kentucky law, an employee can be terminated or fired “at will.”  This means that an employee can be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. This may not apply to you if you have a contract with your employer, depending on the language of the contract (click here for more information on employee contracts and wrongful termination).  However, most employees in Kentucky can be fired at will.

The Good:

There are limits to the at will doctrine, both local and federal law forbid certain types of illegal discrimination by employers.

Federal Law:

Under federal law an employer can’t fire, discipline, refuse to hire, train or promote, harass or pay less to an employee based on their:

  • Race;
  • National Origin;
  • Sex (including pregnancy); or
  • Religion

An employer is also forbidden from retaliating against an employee who complains about unlawful discrimination.

An employer who is found to have violated federal law and committed employee discrimination may be required to pay damages to the employee related to the loss of income due to the discrimination by the employer including:

(a)    Back pay;

(b)   Future pay;  and

(c)    The value of lost employment benefits

The employer may also be required to pay compensation to the employee for mental anguish, emotional pain and other economic losses up to a certain amount.

Kentucky Law:

Under Kentucky law, an employer is forbidden from discriminating against an employee on the basis of

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Color;
  • National Origin;
  • Age (Over 40);
  • Sex;
  • Tobacco Smoking Status (in limited circumstances);or
  • Disability

What To Do If You Believe You Have Been A Victim of Unlawful Discrimination: Do You Have A Claim?

The first step is deciding whether you want to file a complaint with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (this agency may or may not have jurisdiction over your claim) or whether you want to file a legal complaint in state or federal court.  You always have the option of pursing an employee discrimination claim on your own, but you may want to consult an attorney to determine which court is the best to file your claim.  If you file in federal court, it is important to remember that you MUST file what is called a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before proceeding.  There are very strict deadlines for filing this document.  A Charge of Discrimination is not a lawsuit. The EEOC will investigate your claim by requesting that your employer respond to your charge of discrimination, review the information provided by you and your employee and may or may not issue a “Right to Sue” letter, which allows you to file a lawsuit against your employee. You only have 90 days to file a lawsuit against your employer if the EEOC issues a Right to Sue letter to you.

Navigating this process can be confusing, it may be extremely helpful to speak with an attorney if you believe you have been a victim of employment discrimination or retaliation by your employer. Feel free to email or call 502-771-0588 for more information.