Work discrimination is the term that describes when an employee, or potential employee, is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely due to the fact that they possess certain characteristics. There are certain characteristics and backgrounds that are protected by law, and discriminating against an individual based on protected characteristics is illegal.
Work discrimination can also happen when one group of employees is treated better than another group, solely based on protected classes or categories, which are defined by various laws. For example, when one group of workers clearly receives benefits that are denied to others on the basis of their sex, that would be considered workplace discrimination.
To reiterate, a protected class is a group of people who qualify for specific special protection under a law or policy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the landmark anti-discrimination law that granted protections to certain groups of people.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other federal anti-discrimination laws, a person may not be discriminated against based on the following protected characteristics:
- Their age;
- Their race;
- Their national origin;
- Their religious beliefs;
- Their gender ;
- Their disability;
- Their gender identity;
- Their sexual orientation;
- The fact that they are pregnant; and
- Their veteran status.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC is an independent federal agency that oversees the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act. Additionally, the EEOC also oversees other federal anti-discrimination laws as those laws apply to employment.
While all of the characteristics above are federally protected classes, many states also have their own set of anti-discrimination laws and policies which may protect more people than the federal laws do. For example, some state laws also protect people based on their:
- Sexual orientation or gender identity, prior to federal protections;
- Political ideology; and
- Service in a state militia.
It is important to note that while state laws can provide more protections than federal laws, state laws cannot provide fewer protections than federal laws. Further, private employers are also free to have their own policies in place to protect their employees from discrimination or harassment in their workplace, based on certain statuses such as:
- An individual’s marital status;
- An individual’s gender; and/or
- An individual’s sexual orientation.
Once again, work discrimination generally occurs when a person is already hired. However, work discrimination may also happen when a person is still seeking employment. For example, when a person is not hired simply because they identify with a certain religion, that could still be considered work discrimination.
Work discrimination cases frequently involve only one specific characteristic of a person. For example, a person being discriminated against on the basis of their age or their country of origin.
However, multiple factor employment discrimination is another form of workplace discrimination that occurs when an employer discriminates against a person based on more than one trait or characteristics. Once again, this can happen in a variety of contexts, and can involve many different people as well as groups of people.
What Are Some Work Discrimination Laws?
To reiterate, there are a number of state and federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee. Examples of the more significant work discrimination laws which govern work discrimination include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This federal anti-discrimination act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and/or national origin.
- It is important to note that this act applies to private employers, as well as those in local, state, and federal governments;
- The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”): The EPA protects employers against gender discrimination specifically. In particular, the Act states that employees of different genders should be paid equally when they are performing equal work;
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”): The ADEA is the federal act that provides protection from discrimination for employees who are aged 40 years and older. The Act addresses specific circumstances, such as being forced to retire based on age alone;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”): Similar to other anti-discrimination laws, this Act prohibits discrimination against a person based on their disability status. The Act also addresses other aspects of employment, such as providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities;
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”): The IRCA is the federal act that imposes various requirements on employers in terms of employees’ immigration status. For example, the Act addresses when and how an employer should verify the employment eligibility of various workers; and
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”): The FMLA is the federal law which governs how employees can take unpaid medical leave. Among other provisions, the Act provides protection against being fired while on a legitimate or approved medical leave that is covered by the act.
What Are the Legal Remedies for Work Discrimination?
The legal remedies that are available for work discrimination will generally depend on the damages and losses that the plaintiff suffered. For example, if the plaintiff was fired based on a discriminatory action, the legal remedy will usually be to restore the employee to their former position, or pay them monetary damages.
Examples of other legal remedies for work discrimination may include:
- Allowing the worker to be hired if they were initially denied employment based on a protected characteristic;
- Providing benefits or pay raises that the employee should have been entitled to based on their work performance;
- Restoring any lost wages or paying the former employee back pay;
- Granting any promotions or other advancements that the worker was denied due to the discrimination; and/or
- Other civil damages for losses related to the discrimination, such as emotional damage.
As can be seen, work discrimination claims can result in a range of remedies that will depend on the losses of the worker. Further, in some cases, the employer or the entire company may be required to adjust their employment practices in light of the discriminatory conduct to prevent future discrimination.
What if I Have a Work Discrimination Claim?
Reporting and proving employment discrimination can involve a number of steps. The necessary steps to report and prove a work discrimination claim generally include:
- Reporting to the HR Department: Typically, the first step in a work discrimination step is to report the alleged discrimination to the relative HR department. Legal disputes can often be resolved internally through the company’s own dispute resolution mechanisms;
- Submitting a Complaint With the Applicable Government Agency: Once again, discrimination claims are processed by the EEOC. As such, if an individual has been discriminated against, and their HR department does not resolve the issue, they will need to submit a claim to their local EEOC department.
- It is important to note that an individual will usually need to file with a government agency before they can initiate a private lawsuit. The agency will then conduct an investigation and enforce an appropriate remedy;
- File a Private Lawsuit: If an investigation and action(s) taken by the EEOC is not satisfactory, an individual may then consider filing a private civil lawsuit against their employer.
- If a group of people were affected, it may be appropriate to file or join a class action suit.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Work Discrimination Claims?
As can be seen, work discrimination can often involve complex legal issues and concepts. As such, if you believe that you have been discriminated against in the workplace, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced discrimination lawyer.
An experienced discrimination attorney familiar with federal and local discrimination laws will be able to help guide you through reporting work discrimination. Further, an attorney can also help you initiate a private civil lawsuit against your employer, if applicable. Finally, an attorney can also represent you in court, as needed.