What to Do When You Experience Discrimination
Proving discrimination can be challenging. It is helpful to consult with an employment discrimination attorney about the best steps to take and when to take them. For example, it is often a good first step to file an internal complaint according to company policy. This puts the company on notice and allows it to resolve the problem.
There are many ways to prove that discrimination has occurred. You don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt or an outright admission from an employer. Many times, it is conduct and actions over time that show discrimination.
One way to help show discrimination has occurred is to keep a detailed record of each instance of workplace discrimination. It is helpful to document what happened when it happened, and who was involved.
Also, note the names of any witnesses to the incident. (Do this recording on your own time and keep any records in your personal possession, not a company computer.) If you decide to report the discrimination to your employer or bring a lawsuit, this documentation can be invaluable.
Types of Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination has many forms and can be nuanced, which is one of the reasons it’s important to consult an experienced lawyer if you think you have been discriminated against in the workplace. State and federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination, which extends to multiple facets of employment. Besides the hiring and firing process, workplace discrimination can include:
- Job assignments
- Salary differences
Discrimination laws prohibit companies from subjecting employees or applicants to discrimination based on the legally-protected characteristics. Employers cannot terminate or discriminate against an employee based on age, disability, race, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or any other clearly discriminatory reason.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from treating an applicant or employee who is 40 or older less favorably than others due to their age.
Age discrimination in the workplace also encompasses harassment because of a person’s age that creates an offensive or hostile work environment. Employment practices or policies that negatively impact employees or applicants 40 years of age and older can also be illegal if they are not based on a reasonable factor other than age.
Minnesota law is even broader. It prohibits discrimination based on age against anyone who is 18 or older.
Disability discrimination takes place when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably in the workplace because of a current or perceived disability. Unless it would cause hardship to the business or organization, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an individual to perform tasks required by a position if that person is qualified.
When an employee or applicant is treated negatively because of skin color or other personal characteristics such as facial features or hair texture, there may be grounds for a discrimination claim. This prejudice can occur even among those of the same race or color. An employment policy that negatively impacts individuals of a particular race or color and is not related to business operations may be illegal.
Several state and local laws, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibit discrimination due to an employee’s national origin. They also encompass individuals who are married to a person of a particular national origin. These laws forbid discrimination regarding many facets of employment, from job assignments, training, and salary to promotions, fringe benefits, and layoffs.
The law protects individuals who belong to traditional religions as well as those who have sincere ethical, religious, or moral beliefs. Title VII forbids job or workplace segregation based on religion. It also encompasses the grooming practices and clothing worn as a result of religious beliefs. Employers must make reasonable accommodation for religious events, such as flexible scheduling, modifications, or shift substitutions unless it causes undue stress on the business operations.
Equal Pay/Gender Inequality
The Equal Pay Act covers all forms of pay, including salary, vacation, holiday time, and overtime, to stock options, bonus plans, life insurance, and profit-sharing.
If travel is involved in the position, hotel accommodations, gasoline allowances, and reimbursement for travel expenses are also included. Men and women must be given equal pay for equal work within the same workplace. Tasks and duties required of a position, not the title, determine whether jobs are essentially the same.
When job discrimination occurs based on pregnancy or biases on how employees share their caregiving responsibilities, it is unlawful.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women who are temporarily unable to perform routine job duties as a result of their pregnancy or related medical conditions. Employers that allow disabled employees to take leave without pay or must do the same for pregnant employees, and those who have additional family responsibilities. These responsibilities are not limited to the birth or adoption of a child. They can also include caring for an elderly or sick family member.
Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace includes any type of different treatment or harassment of an employee based on a real or perceived sexual orientation. No federal law expressly outlaws employment discrimination in the private sector on the basis of sexual orientation, although federal government employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of their orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual.
Genetic testing can provide information about an individual’s family medical history. The data is often used to help determine particular types of health risks and predisposition to certain diseases. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 forbids discrimination based on the information from genetic testing.
Unwelcome sexual advances, physical harassment of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors, and offensive comments about an individual’s sex are all forms of unlawful harassment – which is a form of gender discrimination. While offhand comments or isolated incidents may not be covered, when they become frequent or create a hostile work environment, that conduct becomes illegal.
Illegal harassment is not limited to sex. Harassment based on other protected characteristics (e.g. age, race, etc.) becomes unlawful when it creates a hostile, intimidating, or abusive environment and interferes with a person’s ability to work. Harassment can include but is not limited to threats, physical assault, offensive jokes, mockery, and intimidation.
This behavior often occurs as part of employment discrimination and as retaliation against a person who filed a complaint.
Retaliation or Reprisal
There are workplace protections for employees who claim they are being subjected to discrimination. Illegal retaliation or reprisal occurs when an employee suffers adverse consequences for reporting discrimination. Fortunately, there are protections that cover employees who report discrimination against themselves or others. Unlawful retaliation or reprisal may include harassment, transfers to unwelcome or objectionable job duties or shifts, demotions, or termination.