Maritime Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination and harassment happen on ships and in maritime workplaces, just like on shore. If you believe you have been illegally harassed or discriminated against at work, please contact a maritime attorney at Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC today. From our offices in Anchorage and Seattle, we fight for the rights of maritime workers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and throughout the U.S.

This area of employment law is somewhat complicated and can involve both state and federal laws. Often, these types of cases are difficult to prove because discrimination and harassment often occur in subtle ways. It's not often that an employer makes a memo of his discrimination or harassment.

What Constitutes Discrimination?

In order to prevail in a discrimination case, the employer must discriminate based upon a protected basis. For instance, there are federal and state laws banning discrimination based on race, religion, and gender. An employer cannot discriminate—either by firing, refusing to hire, or treating employees unequally in the workplace—based on any of these protected bases.

In a similar way, an employer cannot harass or allow harassment based on a protected basis. For example, and employee's gender is a protected basis. Sexual harassment has been in the news in the courtroom quite a bit in the last several years. We have successfully represented several employees in severe harassment cases based on the employee's gender.

Another protected basis is an employee or prospective employee's disabled status. More specific information regarding discrimination based on disability is laid out below, as well as some specific information about wrongful termination of employment.

1. Discrimination Based On Disability

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers cannot discriminate against hiring a "qualified individual" if he or she is disabled. Furthermore, employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodation" to enable a disabled person to perform the job, unless the employer can prove that it would cause "undue hardship."

Disabilities Covered Under ADA

The ADA protects those who suffer from "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." This includes:

  • Cosmetic disfigurement
  • Lack of some body part (e.g. fingers, kidneys, etc.)
  • AIDS
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Mental retardation
  • Epilepsy
  • Dyslexia
  • Diabetes
  • Permanent back injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Alcoholism
  • Tuberculosis
  • Hearing loss
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Past drug addiction
  • Hypertension
  • Cerebral palsy

Qualified Individuals

If a seaman suffers from one of the above disabilities, but is still able to perform the essential functions of the job, then s/he may be a qualified individual and cannot be discriminated against because of that disability. This includes discrimination in the job application process, the hiring, promoting, or firing of employees, and in pay.

Reasonable Accommodation

Employers have a duty to employ qualified disabled individuals. In order to do this, employers may have to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees so that they can perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation that employers are required make for disabled employees may include:

  • Modifying facilities so they are accessible to disabled employees
  • Modifying work schedules
  • Modifying or getting new equipment
  • Adjusting job assessments and training materials
  • Providing readers or interpreters

Employers must provide these reasonable accommodations unless they would require significant difficulty or expense ("undue hardship").

Employment-Related Physicals

Many employers require job applicants to have a physical before they will offer the applicant a position. Most likely, this is illegal. In most cases, the only time that employers can require a physical is after offering the employee a job, and only if all employees in that position are also required to have a physical and the employer can prove that the exam is job-related. In other words, employers cannot make a seaman have a physical simply because the employer suspects that the seamen may have a disability. If a job-related physical examination is in fact necessary, then the results must be kept confidential. The results cannot affect employment unless the examinations showed that an employee's physical condition would create a high probability of substantial harm in their position.

Compensation

If a seaman is discriminated against because of a disability, s/he can sue for reinstatement (re-hiring), as well as back pay and reasonable attorney fees.

2. Wrongful And Retaliatory Termination

Maritime employers may be able to fire employees with or without cause. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and seamen fired wrongfully can sue for reinstatement, back pay, and reasonable attorney's fees.

The Exceptions:

  • Employers may not fire employees because the employee files or is going to file a personal injury claim. In other words, a seaman cannot be fired because he was injured on the job and is suing for damages.
  • Employers may not fire employees for reporting or threatening to report safety and health regulations violations, or refusing to violate those regulations. For instance, a captain cannot be fired for refusing to pilot an unseaworthy ship that does not follow Coast Guard safety guidelines, or for reporting the violation of safety guidelines.

Get In Touch Regarding Your Situation

We would be pleased to speak with you about any of the issues you may face in the workplace. At Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC, our maritime workplace discrimination lawyers are experienced in nearly every area of employer-employee law. We offer an initial free consultation. Call us at 877-DECKLAW (866-974-9633) or contact us online today.