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Discrimination Overview

Anti-discrimination laws have helped thousands of people join the workforce. Each state may have laws for discrimination claims in employment practices. These state laws may offer greater protection than federal laws. For example, several states protect marital status, but federal law doesn't.

The federal government enforces employment discrimination laws. It does so through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It provides the minimum protection employers must provide for different types of discrimination.

Employers cannot discriminate in their hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation practices based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

This section provides an overview of protections against employment discrimination.

Employment Discrimination: Overview

Since the Civil Rights Movement, the federal government enacted nondiscrimination laws to ensure fair employment. These protections seek to prevent employers from discriminating against employees. These laws address:

  • Conditions of employment in job assignments
  • Employment decisions
  • Employment policies

The most prominent of these laws is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law bans those who employ 15 or more workers from discrimination.

Title VII makes it illegal to refuse to:

  • Hire
  • Discipline
  • Fire
  • Deny training
  • Fail to promote
  • Pay less
  • Demote
  • Harass an employee

Refusing employees on these grounds for discriminatory reasons under Title VII is illegal.

The following employment laws apply to all employers, regardless of size. This includes private employers:

Discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion is illegal. It's also unlawful for an employer to adopt a policy or practice disproportionately affecting a protected class. Other kinds of discrimination include:

  • Age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bars discrimination against employees or applicants over 40 by any employer with 20 or more employees. Unlike Title VII, the ADEA does not protect against practices that disparately impact older employees.
  • Disability discrimination. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act bar discrimination against people with disabilities. Unlike other civil rights laws, a plaintiff under this law must show that they have a disability or that their employer saw them as disabled. But if they have a disability, the plaintiff gets more than protection against discrimination. They also have a right to reasonable accommodation for their disability.
  • Religious discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on religious beliefs. Title VII requires employers to accommodate the religious practices of an employee reasonably. They don't have to if doing so would create undue hardship in the work environment
  • National origin discrimination. The Immigration Reform and Control Act bars employers from discriminating against workers based on national origin.
  • Equal pay discrimination. The federal Equal Pay Act requires any employer subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide equal pay to men and women who perform equal work. This is unless the difference is due to seniority, merit, or other factor not based on sex.

Federal Sector Employment Protections

The EEOC guides federal agencies on all compliance with EEOC regulations in federal employment. It helps federal agencies with EEO-compliant adjudication. The EEOC also monitors and evaluates the federal agencies' affirmative action employment programs. The Department of Labor has two agencies that deal with EEO monitoring and enforcement.

Dealing With Discrimination: Tips for Employees

Federal, state, and local laws may ban discrimination and harassment for protected reasons. It may be unclear what to do if you are the subject of discrimination in the workplace.

In most circumstances, you should make your employer aware that you feel discrimination or harassment is taking place. It's important to report the matter. This is the case when a co-worker or employer does the discrimination. Reporting ensures that the employer is aware that the issue is serious.

When incidents happen, request an investigation. Make sure you document everything. This also ensures the employer can't claim ignorance of the situation if you sue. Keep a diary. Record incidents. This includes date, time, people involved or witnesses, and details of the discrimination.

Such information can help organize and present evidence if you later need to sue. Employees should also keep objects such as pictures, emails, or other signs of harassment as evidence.

Sexual harassment and discrimination often happen behind closed doors. This makes every bit of evidence important and worth preservation.

Review your company's anti-discrimination policy and the state and federal laws to determine which laws relate to you. Laws may vary in their evidentiary requirements, definitions, or available remedies.

Consider contacting the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), depending on your situation. It's the government agency overseeing compliance with many federal anti-discrimination laws. EEOC gives detailed information about the complaint process based on discriminatory practices. State equal employment agencies may offer more help and employee rights.

You Don't Have to Solve This on Your Own — Get a Lawyer's Help

Contacting an attorney can help you navigate a complicated network of laws. They can explain your legal options and identify the correct venue for your claims. Meeting with a lawyer can help you or a family member understand how to protect your rights best. Getting a referral helps. Call an employment law attorney.

Learn About Discrimination Overview

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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