It is an unfortunate reality that discrimination does happen. Anyone, regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital status, or other identifying factors can face discrimination. Various actions may constitute discrimination. Most people are familiar with general discriminatory practices like racial segregation, which of course is no longer legal in the United States. Discrimination can occur in public places of business, in purchasing or renting property, in receiving medical care, and in the workplace, among other places. 

There are laws that prohibit discrimination in various kinds of circumstances, including in the workplace. Read on to learn more about what workplace discrimination looks like and what the you can do if you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination. 

What Are Protected Classes?

Not everyone can claim that they were illegally discriminated against, meaning sometimes it is not necessarily illegal for an employer to treat an employee unfavorably. However, federal law prohibits discrimination against employees based upon the following protected classes: 

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender ;
  • Marital status;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual Orientation;
  • Race;
  • Religion; and
  • National origin.

If an individual claims that they were discriminated against because they are a dog lover and not a cat lover like their boss, they likely won’t have a claim, not for workplace discrimination at least, because favoring dogs over cats is not a protected class. 

However, if an individual claims that they were discriminated against because they are disabled and require a service dog, that might be a different scenario that falls under workplace discrimination for disability. 

What Is Workplace Discrimination?

Essentially, workplace discrimination is discrimination that occurs in the workplace. More specifically, this means that an employee is treated unfairly, differently, or unfavorably compared to other employees because of that employee’s race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, or other protected class. This unfair treatment usually pertains to actions such as hiring, promotions, employment benefits, training opportunities, job assignments, or salary. 

This unfair treatment may be evident in numerous scenarios. For example, an employee who requested a promotion may be denied the promotion based solely on the fact that the employee is a young, married woman, and the boss instead believes that men should be their family’s breadwinners. The boss promotes a male employee over the young, married woman, essentially, because she is a woman. 

Hiring and promotion decisions can sometimes be fairly obvious, but there are less obvious forms of workplace discrimination. These might include a situation where an hourly employee’s pay rate is reduced because she is pregnant. Or, an employee who has worked for the office for thirty years and is over retirement age has requested the opportunity to earn training related to their job, but is denied because the employer deems the employee to be too old to invest in any longer. 

These examples show that the action taken against the employee was not related in any way to the employee’s work-related performance. Instead, the actions against the employees were directly related to a protected class. 

It is important to note that the employee does not necessarily have to belong to a protected class to have a claim for workplace discrimination. Let’s say an employer is under the impression that the employee is Jewish. The employee is in fact Christian, but their boss doesn’t realize the employee’s true religious preference. 

The employer believes that people who are Jewish are not hard workers, and because the employer believes that the employee is Jewish, the employer refuses to promote the employee. This would be workplace discrimination even though the employee is not actually Jewish. The employer’s perceived belief about the employee’s religious association is enough for the employee to have a claim. 

Another key issue is whether the employer’s action is workplace discrimination versus workplace harassment. Discrimination relates to the actions mentioned above, whereas harassment can be a host of other actions taken against the employee. 

Such actions might include things like moving an employee from a coveted corner office to a small cubicle in the basement, because the employee revealed that they are part of the LGBTQ community. Forcing an employee to change offices might not necessarily be workplace discrimination, but depending on the circumstances, it could be considered workplace harassment

Do I Need a Lawyer If I’ve Been Discriminated Against at Work?

Nobody should have to work in a discriminatory environment, which is why the federal government (and many state governments) enacted laws to protect workers. Even in the most strict at-will employment states where employers can generally terminate employees for any reason, there are protections for workers against discrimination. 

If you feel that they have been the victim of workplace discrimination there are steps that you can take. It is important that you have quality legal advice in these matters. Contact an experienced employment lawyer today to determine whether you have experienced workplace discrimination and what you can do to correct the situation.