Employment discrimination is prohibited by federal law as well as many state and local laws. Discriminatory acts generally include treating some employees or applicants differently from others for reasons other than job performance or ability to perform job duties. Discrimination laws are fairly specific when it comes to who is protected and from what, and some of these laws overlap. Job discrimination cases can be very complex and you do not have a lot of time to begin legal action.
Federal laws protect workers and applicants from discrimination based on the following:
- Age, if over 40
- National origin
- Genetic information
Depending on where the company is located and the type of job, you may also be protected from discrimination based on:
- Military service
- Sexual orientation
- Political affiliation
- Marital status
- Status as a parent
Discrimination occurs when a negative decision or treatment is based on one of the above traits or characteristics, rather than your ability to perform essential job duties. Examples of activities in which discrimination is prohibited include:
- Job advertisements
- Disability leave
- Assignment of specific tasks
Harassment falls under discrimination. Employees and applicants are also protected from discrimination based on their association with or marriage to someone who falls under discrimination protections, rather than their own traits or characteristics.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who register complaints or file charges for discrimination, those who cooperate or assist with discrimination investigations, and those who simply oppose discrimination in the workplace.
Protection from discrimination is not as selective as people often believe. For instance, gender discrimination includes men as well as women, and race discrimination can occur against those who identify as or are perceived as being white. The term “reverse discrimination” is often used to refer to these types of discrimination. In some cases, reverse discrimination is intentional, but it can also be the result of a misinterpretation of discrimination laws or simply being overcautious.
What You Can Do
If you believe that you have a discrimination claim, you may be confused about what to do next. Discrimination laws are complex, and your situation may fall under federal, state, or local laws or a combination thereof. Certain types of claims must be filed with the appropriate agency before you can move forward to a lawsuit. Time limits for taking action are very short.
Violations of most federal discrimination laws should be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). State and local issues are handled by state and local agencies. If your case is covered by federal and state or local law, the agency you file your complaint with will normally file your complaint with the other applicable agency.
To avoid confusion, ensure that you do not exceed your time limit, and gain a better understanding of what to expect in your case, you should talk to an employment attorney.