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What Is Nepotism? Can You Sue for It?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Nepotism is a decidedly negative word. But if you threaten someone that you're going to sue for nepotism, will you be laughed out the door?

If you phrase it that way, you might get some strange looks. But favoritism at work can be a form of discrimination, as Demand Media explains. In some cases, you may even have a right to sue.

There are few, if any, laws that specifically prohibit nepotism. But there are many laws, both state and federal, that prohibit discrimination. It's where the two overlap that there may be grounds for an employee to file a lawsuit.

Nepotism and Discrimination

Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, or gender. Individual state laws may also provide additional protection based on categories like sexual orientation.

A claim for employment discrimination must be able to show that an employer's practices disadvantaged employees based on one of those prohibited categories.

Keep in mind that nepotism generally means providing workplace opportunities to employees based on personal relationships rather than experience and qualifications. Hiring or promoting friends and family isn't necessarily unfair if the person is qualified.

But just because it's not unfair doesn't mean it's allowed. That's especially true in the case of romantic relationships between coworkers.

Addressing Problems at Work

When interactions between coworkers make you uncomfortable enough that it interferes with your ability to do your work, that can also be a legal problem.

You may want to talk to your human resources representative to see if the problem can be resolved. But if the behavior continues and causes you significant distress (as opposed to just an annoyance), it might be time to talk to a lawyer.

That kind of situation can be considered a hostile work environment and it's not allowed.

Even if the favoritism in your office doesn't rise to a level where you can file a legal claim, it's still a good idea to address it with your superior.

Most workplaces have policies that aim to prevent nepotism. Speaking up may alert your boss to a situation she wasn't aware of, and may lead to a resolution.

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