The southeastern state of Tennessee is growing at a prodigious clip. Its population (according to a 2008 census) is over 6.2 million – an increase of nearly 10% since the beginning of the decade. Nashville, Tennessee is the epicenter of country-western music. Memphis is renowned for blues and R&B. In addition to music, TN’s major industries include textiles, beef cattle farming, cotton, and soybeans. Many enormous multinational corporations call Tennessee home, including Caterpillar, AutoZone Inc., FedEx, and the American division of Nissan. The state brings in around $226 billion a year in GDP, according to a 2005 analysis.

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) handles employment cases such as:

  • Discrimination. State and federal laws prevent employers from discriminating against individuals or treating them unfairly in the workplace based on factors such as age, gender, race, national origin, and religion.
  • Harassment. Sexual harassment can consist of a wide range of unacceptable behaviors from supervisors or staff. These may include continued sexual advances (after a victim has rejected them) or ongoing lewd jokes or inappropriate sexual discussions.
  • Wage and hour cases. In an attempt to boost profits, some employers apply dishonest tactics, such as tampering with timecards, misclassifying employees as exempt from overtime, and withholding tips. These practices are illegal and punishable under the law.

Although Tennessee is what's known as a "late to work" state -- meaning that TN offers fewer employee protections than some more “labor friendly" states -- workers have significant rights under state law. When a worker files a complaint, a THRC agent known as Intake Review Officer investigates to determine whether mediation or action against an employer may be necessary. According to TN Law, if you have been discriminated against, you must file a complaint within 180 days. The state forbids employment discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, sex, age, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, and skin color.

The THRC often works in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to handle and track discrimination complaints. Investigations can take up to half a year, but most cases get resolved faster. The THRC is a neutral body and does not strictly represent the interest of claimants.

Tennessee’s country music industry is one of the most competitive industries on the planet. Every year, hundreds (if not thousands) of hopeful artists move to Nashville to try to kick start music careers. Given how competitive the music business has become -- particularly in light of the industry’s web-driven slump -- hopeful singer/songwriters often endure unfair work practices just to get a chance for “the big break.” Many of these abused artists fail to report wage and hour violations, harassment, and discrimination for fear of retaliation by employers or potential future employers in the business.

Tennessee law is clear: worker mistreatment and discrimination is illegal, and employers who treat their workers unfairly can be subjected to a gamut of civil and even criminal punishments. If you think you’ve experienced illegal treatment by your employer, find out how to fight back by discussing the matter with an employment attorney near you.

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