East Tennessee Employment Discrimination and Employment Harassment Lawyers


Unfortunately, if you are reading this page, you likely have been mistreated by your employer. Even more unfortunate is that unfair treatment alone is insufficient to constitute an employment discrimination claim. As you may already be aware, Tennessee is an at-will employment state. This means that your employer may fire you for good cause or for no reason at all so long as either: (1) you do not have a contract with a definitive end date; and (2) your employer did not mistreat you because of your race, skin color, religion, sex, nationality, age, or disability. 

Our attorneys work endlessly to provide employees that were wrongfully discriminated against that affected their employment with the compensation that they deserve. You may be entitled to compensation including punitive damages to punish your employer’s wrongdoing. Harassment and discrimination in East Tennessee occur in far too many workplaces that effect employees’ ability to earn a raise, a promotion or may even result in an employee being fired. Sometimes, harassment is so rampant and commonplace that it may result in employees quitting their job or having severe emotional distress because they cannot take the emotional anguish that is caused by simply going to work to earn a living.

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Step 1: Speak to an attorney about your employment situation and status

The attorneys at Barnes Law Firm have experience representing their clients in race, skin color, religion, sex, nationality, age, and disability employment discrimination cases that resulted in adverse impacts on our clients’ employment status and/or hostile work environments. It is essential that you speak to an attorney that understands the employment discrimination process to avoid jeopardizing your claim and to maximize the amount of money you may receive in a settlement or at trial. 

An experienced attorney will provide you with advice, guidance, and the essential negotiation skills to maximize your claim and make it more likely that you will be able to recover if you have a valid claim. Unfortunately, as eluded to above, federal and state law make it very difficult to maintain an employment discrimination lawsuit and there are numerous crossroads that you must overcome to have a successful claim. Your employer may point to issues in your personnel file or make another excuse that may provide them with a defense from your employment discrimination claim. 

Employment Discrimination and/or Harassment: Helping you determine if you may have a valid claim against your employer

To establish an employment discrimination case, you must establish that: (1) you are a member of a protected class; (2) you were satisfactorily performing your job; (3) you were fired from your job or adversely affected; and (4) you were replaced by someone not from a protected class (a non-minority, male if gender discrimination or younger individual in the case of age discrimination) or individuals from the non-protected class were treated more favorably than yourself in the workplace. 

A claim without evidence is insufficient to maintain a valid employment discrimination claim. Testimony from other employees, text messages, emails, video footage or work documents either directly establishing or circumstantially establishing that your job was impacted by your status in a protected class is essential to maintaining your claim. 

Hostile work environment/harassment

To establish a hostile work environment claim, you must establish that: (1) you belonged to a protected class; (2) you were subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on your status (race, religion, gender); (4) the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of your employment; and (5) your employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take remedial action. 

Your employer will not be liable simply because harassment occurred. Your employer must have known or should have known about the harassment and failed to implement prompt and appropriate corrective action. The alleged conduct must have also been sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of your employment and create an abusive working environment. The more often the conduct happens, the more likely your claim is to be successful because it will be viewed as pervasive conduct that creates an abusive working environment. However, even if the conduct only occurred a handful of times, your employer may still be liable if the conduct is sufficiently severe. 

Retaliation: Will I be fired for filing a claim?

Federal and state law protect individuals that file claims against their employer from their employer retaliating against them by taking adverse employment action such as firing you. If you are fired because of filing a claim with the EEOC or THRC, you may have an additional claim for retaliation. 

To establish a retaliation claim, you must establish that: (1) you engaged in activity protected by federal law; (2) the exercise of your civil rights were known to your employer; (3) your employer took an employment action that was averse to you; and (4) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

Pregnancy discrimination

By statute, employees who have been employed full-time for at least twelve (12) consecutive months may be absent from their employment for a period not to exceed four (4) months for adoption, pregnancy, childbirth and nursing an infant without being fired from their job. The leave may be with or without pay at the discretion of the employer. However, the leave shall not affect your rights to receive vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, or any other benefits or rights that you would have otherwise had with your position. 

You must provide your employer with at least three (3) months’ advance notice regarding your anticipated date of your leave and your intention to return to full-time employment after leave. 

The exception to this rule is that if your position is so unique that your employer cannot, after reasonable efforts, fill your position on a temporary basis then your employer will not be liable for failing to reinstate you to your job at the end of your leave. 

Step 2: File a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

After speaking to our attorneys and determining that you may have a valid claim, the next step is to file a claim with the EEOC. You can file a claim with the EEOC at the following link: https://publicportal.eeoc.gov/Portal/Login.aspx. Our attorneys will help you understand what information must be provided to the EEOC to maximize the chance of a successful claim.

Time limit: Be advised, you must be prompt in filing your claim with the EEOC because you must file your claim within 180 days from the date that the discrimination occurred, or 300 days if it fails under discrimination that is also covered by state law under the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. If you fail to file your claim with the EEOC within that time limit, your claim will be forever barred, and you will not be able to recover for your employer’s discrimination. In limited circumstances, such as the case of a hostile work environment, the EEOC and federal court may authorize an individual act to fall outside of the 300-day limit under a doctrine known as the continuing violation doctrine. In short, this doctrine allows a series of related acts to be treated as one act and authorizes you to receive damages for acts that would otherwise be time barred if one or more of the related acts occurred within the limitations period. For example, if your immediate supervisor routinely made sexual or racial comments and/or slurs towards you that were commonplace, ongoing and/or continuing, it would be irrelevant that some of those slurs or comments are time barred by the 300-day limit if as long as one of the comments falls within the time limit. 

Size of business:

  • EEOC- Federal Law: All employers must provide equal pay for equal work regardless of sex or race. Any other federal rights to equality within the workplace that you have such as prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability are only protected if your employer has at least 15 employees; 20 employees are required for an age discrimination case. https://www.eeoc.gov/overview
  • THRC- State Law: State law is slightly more inclusive than state law when it comes to the size of your employer’s business to have a remedy under state law for your employer’s discrimination towards you. To file a claim for employment discrimination under state law, your employer must have at least 8 employees; although there are a few exceptions such as for a claim for retaliation. https://www.tn.gov/humanrights/file-a-discrimination-complaint/employment.html

Step 3: Negotiate a settlement or file a lawsuit after the EEOC finds reasonable cause

The EEOC will investigate your allegations of employment discrimination by communicating with your employer and other employees including any employees listed in your complaint, viewing your personnel file maintained by your employer, and potentially visiting your employer’s business for an on-site visit and interviews.


Reasonable Cause: If the EEOC finds reasonable cause that you were discriminated against, the EEOC will send you a Letter of Determination that will state the reason that the EEOC believes that discrimination occurred. The EEOC will attempt to facilitate negotiations between you and your employer by recommending action such as mediation or arbitration. It is imperative that you hire an attorney to assist you in negotiations throughout this process. The attorneys at Barnes Law use the Letter of Determination to send your employer a document known as a demand letter. Our lawyers will evaluate the value of your case based on caselaw, the facts of your case, your employer’s potential liability for compensatory damages and potentially punitive damages, your lost income and/or similar cases that resulted in either a settlement or a jury verdict, to provide that information within the demand letter. Thereafter, our attorneys will negotiate the terms of any potential settlement to reach the top dollar offer that your employer will offer to help you determine if you should settle the claim or file a lawsuit.  

No Reasonable Cause: If the EEOC does not find reasonable cause that you were discriminated against, you will receive a notice called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. This letter will inform you that although the EEOC determined that there was no evidence of discrimination, you have the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within the next ninety days from the date of the letter. For more information on the EEOC and the different types of discrimination visit the EEOC website at https://www.eeoc.gov 


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Contact Barnes Law Firm today to speak to our lawyers about the specific facts of your case for us to help determine if you may be entitled to compensation. 

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Client Testimonials

"John is amazing not only did he get the outcome he promised he did it in a shorter time than he originally said. He went above and beyond in returning my emails and phone calls. John and staff truly cared about me as a person. I highly recommend John Barnes."

Coach M.

"I would highly recommend Mr. Barnes to everyone & I would definitely contact Mr. Barnes if I or anyone in my family should ever need an attorney again:) They were all very professional, friendly & treated our case with importance:) Mr.Barnes got my son’s DUI dropped to reckless driving so I would definitely recommend him to everyone!!!!!!!"

Alicia U.

"Mr. Barnes and his staff are amazing. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with my case. At no point in the long process was I disappointed in any way with how things were handled."

Scott C.