Fired Because You’re Female and Single

By Paula Santonocito

Woman Carrying Belongings in Box

Q. I was recently laid off from my job at a graphic design firm where I had worked for 15 years. Business had been slow because of the economy, but I was not prepared for what happened. The owner called everyone into the conference room and said he was keeping three men on staff because they were “married breadwinners” and that the rest of us were being let go. This doesn’t seem fair to me. Is there anything I can do?

A. On the surface, your company owner’s behavior certainly seems discriminatory.

Although it’s never easy for a company to decide who should go and who should stay when layoffs are necessary, making the decision based on marital status and/or gender is not acceptable.

It is possible that another method of determining layoffs was used, such as job performance, but your company owner’s comment suggests otherwise.

So what can you do?

Begin by documenting what happened, noting the date and time of the meeting, who was present, and what was said. Also recap your work history, including any promotions, raises, and additional responsibilities you’ve been given, particularly in the recent past.

If you have copies of performance appraisals and/or written positive feedback from your boss, gather those documents as well. If the feedback was verbal, make notes.

Once you have all this information together, you’re ready to consult the experts regarding discrimination.

If your company employed at least 15 people, you may have grounds to file a federal claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

But even if your company had fewer than 15 employees, you might still be able to file a state claim. Each state’s requirements are different, but in New York State, where you live, a company only has to employ four people.

Federal and state claims get filed separately.

You may also want to consult an attorney. These kinds of lawsuits get filed on a regular basis, and the settlements can be substantial. Attorneys will often take cases for a percentage of the settlement amount, which means no upfront money is required.

As a woman, and a single woman at that, you may be reluctant to take on your former employer. You may still feel a sense of loyalty to the company. But, given the manner in which you were dismissed, your company has shown no respect for or loyalty to you.

What’s more, your former employer’s actions may be illegal.

The time has passed when a woman (or anyone, for that matter) has to put up with discrimination in the workplace. Your former employer may be against you because you’re female and single, but the law is on your side.

More SMW Career Advice and FlexJobs

Vacation Tips: Checking in With the Office

Single Women in Today’s Workplace