Workplace discrimination may also be referred to as employment discrimination. The term is used to describe when an employee, or potential employee, is treated differently from other employees. This treatment is generally negative, and is not based on their job performance but rather the fact that they possess specific characteristics. Additionally, the employee is treated differently from other employees who perform similar work tasks.
There are both federal and state laws that prohibit employers from practicing discrimination in the workplace. This is because it is every employer’s duty to ensure that every employee or applicant is treated fairly and equally. Classes that are specifically protected from discrimination include:
- Race or color;
- National origin;
- Sex or gender identity;
- Religious beliefs, or lack thereof;
- Political affiliation;
- Disability or medical conditions;
- Pregnancy; and/or
- Sexual orientation, in some cities and states.
To reiterate, discrimination occurs when an employee or prospective employee is treated less favorably than other employees or prospective employees, because of their belonging to one or more protected classes. Discrimination can occur at any time, beginning when a person is looking for a job and ending after they have been hired as an employee.
An example of this would be how refusing employment to an otherwise qualified candidate based on their religious beliefs would constitute workplace discrimination. Another common discrimination claim occurs when the employer fails to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to a disabled employee.
Employment discrimination cases frquently involve only one specific characteristic of a person. An example of this would be how a person may generally be discriminated against on the basis of their age, or their country of origin. However, multiple factor employment discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates against a person based on more than one protected class.
This would mean that the person is discriminated against in a work setting because of both their age and their country of origin. Such discrimination can happen in a variety of contexts, and can involve many different individuals as well as groups of people.
What Are Some Common Examples Of Workplace Discrimination?
To put it simply, employers cannot discriminate when imposing work conditions or privileges. Additionally, they cannot discriminate when determining wages, bonuses, or time off.
Some other common examples of workplace discrimination include:
- Hiring, firing, or forced retirement of an employee based only on their protected class;
- Refusing to hire someone based on their protected class;
- Using language in job advertisements and recruitment materials that will deter candidates of protected classes, such as stating that the applicant must be able to lift a certain amount of weight when that is not relevant to the position;
- Granting benefits to one group but not another, despite the fact that both groups do the same type of work;
- Withholding salary or wages;
- Decreasing health and medical benefits to those who belong to a protected class;
- Forcing someone to work under harsh and/or unreasonable conditions;
- Asking the employee to waive their right to sue in exchange for severance pay at the end of employment; and
- Disputes regarding hours worked, such as denying overtime and vacation pay when they would otherwise be entitled.
Additionally, employers are prohibited from engaging in harassment, or any such actions that would contribute to a hostile work environment. It is important to note that this includes the actions of coworkers, as well as employers. Employers are prohibited from retaliation against employees for:
- Reporting harassment or discrimination;
- Filing a lawsuit;
- Joining a union; and
- Participating in an investigation of the workplace discrimination.
Employers may not exclude certain applicants from employment advertisements based on protected classes, or show a preference. Additionally, they may not offer or give promotions solely to those with certain preferred characteristics, as opposed to any employee who has earned them.
An example of this would be how it is illegal to grant a higher pay salary to one group over another group of workers, solely based on their race. This is especially true if both groups are performing the same tasks or type of work.
Employment discrimination laws are also expanding to include more categories and classes. Specifically, sexual orientation and gender identity are being considered more frequently in terms of anti-discrimination policies and laws. Each state may have their own specific provisions that might differ from other states. An example of this would be how California employment discrimination laws vary from those of Texas.
How Can I Prove Workplace Discrimination?
In order to successfully prove workplace discrimination, you will most likely need to belong to a protected class. Generally speaking, you will need to demonstrate to a court that either your employer or a prospective employer intentionally treated you differently simply because of your belonging to a protected class.
Proof of such intent may be fortified if the employer has repeatedly treated others of the same protected class unfairly. It is important that you prove that the employer consciously made the choice to treat you differently from other employees, and that this conscious decision was solely based on your membership to a protected class.
Alternatively, your employer will most likely be attempting to prove that their actions were motivated by something else entirely, something unrelated to your protected status. Attempting to prove that their actions were motivated by a legitimate purpose is referred to as pretext. An example of pretext would be that the employee was not actually qualified for the job, or that the company requirements changed and the employee was no longer a good fit.
Another example would be that there were better, more qualified applicants. In an employment discrimination lawsuit, proof of the employer’s actual intentions is absolutely imperative to success.
Some examples of evidence that you will need to support your claim include, but may not be limited to:
- Written evidence of the discrimination, such as emails, company policies or handbooks, job offers and employment contracts, etc;
- Verbal communications, such as statements made in an interview; and
- Documents, such as pay stubs or human resources records.
How Do I File a Workplace Discrimination Claim?
Your first step would be to contact your company’s human resources department. In order to pursue any sort of discrimination claim, you will need to first exhaust all administrative remedies; meaning, you must communicate with your workplace and try to resolve the issue through their methods before pursuing anything else.
If exhausting your administrative remedies does not resolve the issue, you will need to file a complaint with a government agency first before you can file a lawsuit for employment discrimination. This is generally accomplished by filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), who will likely conduct an investigation into the discrimination claim in order to prescribe an appropriate remedy.
Should the remedy fail to be sufficient or satisfactory, the EEOC will provide you with a Right To Sue letter. This letter is what allows you to get an attorney and file a civil lawsuit against your employer.
What you can receive if your claim is successful depends on the type of losses or damages caused by the discrimination. Remedies generally include:
- Payment for lost wages;
- Reinstatement to the previous work position after a wrongful termination, if you wish for your old position;
- Reinstatement of lost benefits, such as lost retirement benefits; and/or
- Changes to the company’s policies and practices.
Filing a claim can also help uncover other instances of discrimination. Employers cannot legally retaliate against a person who has filed a discrimination claim, even if the discrimination claim is not proven to be true. An example of this would be how it is against the law for an employer to fire an employee because they have filed a discrimination claim against them.
Do I Need An Attorney For Workplace Discrimination?
If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, especially if you belong to a protected class, you should consult with an experienced and local discrimination lawyer. State laws can vary in terms of workplace discrimination, so it is advised that you work with an area attorney to ensure you receive the most relevant legal advice.
An experienced and local employment attorney that specializes in discrimination can help determine your next best steps and gather evidence to support your claim. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, while protecting your legal rights.