Author:Sandvik, Alexandra

With a 146 percent rise in the number of workplace discrimination claims brought in Utah in the last decade, the potential cost of those claims may be an important variable for Utah employers to consider.

In 2009, 107 charges of discrimination were brought forward in the state of Utah, compared to 264 claims brought forward in 2017. Since claims of workplace discrimination may expose businesses to potentially unexpected costs, it's worth learning more about workplace discrimination and how it might affect Utah businesses.

Even if a discrimination claim is unsuccessful on its merits and does not result in a monetary judgment or large settlement, a workplace discrimination claim may still be fairly expensive to defend and see dismissed. A meritorious claim for discrimination, however, may incur both the costs of defending against the claim and paying a potentially large judgment or signing a settlement check that is attractive enough to dismiss a potentially meritorious claim.

Under federal law, companies with 15 or more employees are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employment discrimination. (See 42 U.S.C.A. [section] 2000e-2 et seq.). Similarly, in Utah, companies with 15 or more employees are subject to the Utah Antidiscrimination Act. (See Utah Code Ann. [section] 34A-5-101 et seq.).

Under both federal and state discrimination laws, workplace discrimination claims generally encompass allegations that an employee suffered some sort of harassment or adverse employment action because the employee was a member of a protected class. Protected classes include employees over the age of 40; employees with a mental or physical disability; employees who are pregnant; and the national origin, citizenship, race, religion, citizenship, gender, and sexual orientation of employees.

Settlement awards against employers for workplace discrimination have exponentially increased in the last decade, especially in class action lawsuits. In 2009, the top 10 settlement awards cost United States employers $84.4 million, collectively, in employment discrimination cases. In 2017, however, the top 10 settlement awards cost employers a staggering $2.72 billion. (Seyfarth's 14th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report).

One reason for this increase may be that employees with access to online resources are more adept to find not only the state and federal laws that form the...

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