Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Discrimination and harassment in the workplace can come in many forms. And although such misconduct can sometimes be overt, such as the use of racial slurs or denial of advancement opportunities, it can also be subtle or even concealed. Discrimination occurs when a member of a protected class (women and minorities, for example) is treated differently than her peers. If an African-American employee is repeatedly passed up for a promotion even though he is clearly the most qualified, he may want to file a claim for discrimination. This section provides information on recognizing discrimination and harassment in the workplace, as well as tips on protecting your legal rights if you have been victimized by discrimination or harassment on the job.
Sexual Harassment Overview
Sexual harassment is technically considered a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC generally defines the offense as "unwelcome sexual advances" or similar actions that create an intimidating or hostile workplace. For instance, it is at the very least inappropriate to tell a coworker how "sexy" they look or to tell sexually explicit jokes. When it creates a negative environment, it may be grounds for a lawsuit.
If someone in a position of authority requests sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or job security, then it is considered "quid pro quo" sexual harassment.
The act of employment discrimination can take many forms. Generally, it occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfairly because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, or familial status (pregnancy, specifically). An individual who possesses one of these characteristics (a paralyzed veteran, for example) is said to be part of a "protected class." Discrimination can occur even if the employee is merely perceived to be a part of a protected class.
An act of discrimination may occur in relation to one of the following actions:
- Refusal to hire;
- Denial of training;
- Failure to promote;
- Less pay or demotion; or
Despite the gains gays and lesbians have made with respect to marriage equality, LGBT individuals are not a protected class. This means it is perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBT job seekers and employees in states that don't offer statutory protections. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but has been held up in Congress.
Roughly 20 states do prohibit LGBT discrimination in the workplace, including California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.
Contact an employment attorney if you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace.
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