Most states and the federal government have laws that prohibit private persons, organizations or governments from discriminating against people because of certain protected characteristics. In employment, individuals are protected from discrimination by employers under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities in Employment Act, and other federal and state laws.

Employment discrimination in the workplace refers to federal and state laws that prohibit employers from treating workers differently based on certain qualities unrelated to their job performance. 

When Does Employment Discrimination Occur?

Employment discrimination occurs when an employee or a prospective employee is treated less favorably than other employees or prospective employees because of their background or personal characteristics that is protected by law (sex, age, gender, religion, disability, etc)  Employment or workplace discrimination may occur at anytime during when a person is looking for a job or after the person has been hired as an employee. 

For example, refusing to employ someone based on their gender, age, or religion is considered employment discrimination. Another example of employment discrimination is if an employer fails to provide workplace accommodations to an employee who is disabled. All employers have the duty to make sure that every employee that works with them or is applying to work with them gets treated equally and fairly. 

How Can I Prove of Employment Discrimination?

To prove employment discrimination, you must show that the employer intended to treat you differently because of the characteristic. This intent can also be demonstrated if the employer has treated a lot of other persons with the same protected characteristic unfairly.

Protected Classes/Characteristics for Employment Discrimination

  • Race or Color
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual orientation (in some states and cities)

What Are Some Examples of When Employment Discrimination Can Occur in the Workplace?

If a protected classification is involved in the employment discrimination, many types of conduct can be found to be discriminatory in the workplace, including decisions for the employer to hire, terminate, or promote solely because of the person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status disability, or religion. Employers cannot discriminate when imposing work conditions or privileges, or when determining pay, bonus, or time off. Discrimination on a protected class based on the following is a violation and considered employment discrimination:

  • Hiring, forced retirement, firing because of a person’s protected classification
  • Job advertisements and recruitment because of a person’s protected classification
  • Compensation and pay because of a person’s protected classification
  • Decreasing Health/Medical and benefits because of a person’s protected classification
  • Waivers of the right to sue in exchange for severance pay 

What Else is Prohibited by Employment Discrimination Laws?

Under employment discrimination laws, employers can face repercussions for any of the following actions:

  • Harassment - by your employer or coworkers when your employer knows they are harassing you due to the protected characteristic (read more about it at: Hostile Work Environment Harassment)
  • Retaliation - against you for reporting discrimination, filing a lawsuit due to the discrimination or participating in an investigation
  • Employment Advertisements - excluding certain persons with a protected characteristic or showing a preference: This is permitted only when the employer has proven that age is a "bona fide occupational qualification"
  • Promotions - offered or given only to persons with a certain preferred characteristics

How Can I File an Employment Discrimination Claim?

Pursuing an employment discrimination claim can be complex especially for those who do not have a lawyer to assist them. Here are the steps to pursue an employment discrimination claim: 

  1. File a Claim with EEOC: The process starts by filing a complaint with the EEOC. Most claims must be brought to the attention of the EEOC, before the employee will be allowed to file a lawsuit.  The EEOC requires claims to be filed within 180 days Claims can be filed with the EEOC in person or by mail. The EEOC needs basic information to allow it to investigate, such as contact information for the employee and employer, and the date of the discrimination incident.
  2. EEOC Investigation: The EEOC will investigate the matter and gather all of the documentation it needs.
  3. After Investigation: Following its investigation, if the EEOC finds discrimination did occur; the EEOC will work with both parties to attempt a settlement.
  4. File a Lawsuit: If a settlement between the parties is unsuccessful, the EEOC will either file a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf for the discrimination claim. 

Do I Need an Lawyer for my Employment Discrimination Case?

Pursuing an employment discrimination claim against an employer is complicated because procedural laws vary depending on where and when you file your claim. A lawyer will help you with the filing deadlines specific to your claim. Also, because the EEOC investigators will not get to your claim immediately, a lawyer can help you investigate and pursue any additional remedies. It is also a good idea to see a work lawsuit lawyer before signing a waiver or other severance package. If you are an employer being sued for employment discrimination, you should speak to an employment lawyer immediately.