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

Laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Read on to learn more about what workplace discrimination looks like and what 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.

Suppose individuals claim they were discriminated against because they are dog lovers and not cat lovers like their boss. In that case, they likely won’t have a claim for workplace discrimination because favoring dogs over cats is not a protected class.

However, suppose individuals claim they were discriminated against because they are disabled and require a service dog. In that case, that might be a different scenario that falls under workplace discrimination for a 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 essentially promotes a male employee over the young, married woman because she is a woman.

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

These examples show actions taken against an employee unrelated in any way to the employee’s work-related performance. Instead, the actions against the employees were directly associated with a protected class.

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

The employer believes that Jewish people 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 Jewish. The employer’s perceived belief about the employee’s religious association is enough to incite a claim.

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

Such actions might include 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 it could be considered workplace harassment depending on the circumstances.

What is Sex Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Title VII also covers unfair treatment based on an individual’s association with a gender-based organization.

Examples of gender discrimination may include a refusal to hire women, lack of advancement opportunities based on sex or sexual orientation, or firing someone because they are members of the LGBTQ community.

What is Age Discrimination?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects many workers aged 40 and up from unfair workplace treatment. For example, employers may not pass up older, more qualified candidates for a promotion in favor of a younger, less-qualified employee if the decision is simply based on age.

What is Religious Discrimination?

Title VII also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their religious beliefs. It also protections extend to individuals who do not belong to an organized religious group but still have strong moral or ethical beliefs.

Title VII also protects employees treated differently for associating with someone who belongs to a religious group.

What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

The federal law known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discriminatory treatment based on childbirth, pregnancy, or other conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. A woman may not be passed up for a promotion because of her pregnancy if she is the most qualified person for the promotion.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act protect an employee’s rights to reasonable accommodations or leave associated with pregnancy or childbirth.

What is Disability Discrimination?

The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination against individuals with disabilities or those perceived to have impairments. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers with a disability, such as disabled workplace access or other options that don’t place unreasonable burdens on the company or other employees.

What is Equal Pay and Wage Discrimination?

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employment discrimination based on gender. It requires that all men and women in the same workplace be paid equally for equal amounts of work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act increased the length of time women have to file equal pay and wage discrimination claims.

Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA require equal pay regardless of race, religion, or other protected characteristics.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, offensive sexual comments, and offensive remarks about someone’s gender. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment.

Promises of employment-related benefits in exchange for sexual conduct are also prohibited under Title VII.

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

Nobody should have to work in a discriminatory environment. The federal government and many state governments have 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, you can take steps. You must have quality legal advice in these matters. Contact an experienced discrimination lawyer today to determine whether you have experienced workplace discrimination and how to correct the situation.