Discrimination Claims FAQs
What kinds of situations do anti-discrimination laws apply to?
I am being treated differently at work because of my age. What are my legal rights?
My boss is treating me unfairly. Is this discrimination?
Can my criminal record be used against me at work?
Does my employer have to comply with my request to accommodate my disability?
What is considered a disability under the law?
Am I allowed to take time off to care for a sick family member? Or if I’m sick myself?
What is a hostile work environment?
Are racist comments in the workplace a form of discrimination?
Can my employer treat me differently because I’m pregnant?
What am I required to do to accommodate my employees’ religious beliefs?
Who can be a victim of sexual harassment?
Does federal law prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation?
What kinds of legal protections exist for transgender employees?
Is it legal to pay men more than women who are doing the same job?
What can I do if my child is being treated in a discriminatory manner at school?
Most commonly, anti-discrimination laws apply to employment situations. There are state and federal laws that prohibit employers from treating potential and present employees unfavorably solely because of a characteristic that is protected by law, specifically their age, ethnicity, religion, sex, race, or disability. There are also state laws, depending on the specific state, that prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, there is currently no federal law prohibiting private employers from discriminating against an individual due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Additionally, there are anti-discrimination laws to prevent places of public accommodation, such as restaurants or doctor’s offices, from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public places, such as a movie theater, to have or install a ramp for individuals who use wheelchairs. It is often considered discriminatory for places of public accommodation to not include specific accommodations for disabled patrons.
Finally, there are anti-discrimination laws involving housing. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits actors from treating individuals unfavorably due to their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, age, participation in public assistance programs, or applicants’ participation in Consumer Credit Protection services. This prohibition on discrimination extends to most aspects of securing housing, including the areas of sale, rental, or financing of residential dwellings and other housing-related processes.
The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based solely on the age of the employee. An employee must be at least 40 years of age and work for an employer that has at least 20 employees to be eligible to bring a claim of age discrimination. If you feel that you are being unlawfully discriminated against because of your age, you may either file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or sue your employer for unlawfully discriminating against you. However, you must file a claim with the EEOC before you can bring a cause of action in court against your employer.
Once a claim is filed with the EEOC, an investigator will examine the claim and attempt to reach a resolution with your employer. If the EEOC determines that your claim is substantiated and the employer did unlawfully discriminate against you, the EEOC will direct the employer to remedy the illegal action taken (e.g., give you the promotion that you should have received, but for your age). If the EEOC finds that your claim is substantiated, but your employer is unwilling to rectify its bad act, the EEOC will issue you a “right to sue” letter, which then allows you to bring a cause of action in a court of law.
It is illegal for an employer to take adverse action against you or harass you if the basis for their conduct is a protected characteristic such as your race, gender, age, or religion. In some states, additional characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity are also protected; the extent of available protections for these classes under federal law is not as clear. If your employer’s behavior does not seem to be connected to any of these traits, it may be difficult to find a legal basis for a discrimination or harassment claim. However, many states are enacting workplace bullying laws, which may be more applicable to your situation than anti-discrimination statutes.
Read more about employment discrimination.
An employer is required to accommodate a disabled employee if the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for prospective and present employees with disabilities. An accommodation is defined as a change in the workplace that would assist prospective or present employees in performing their jobs. Reasonable accommodations generally include adjustments such as added ramps for employees in wheelchairs or permitting a service dog in the workplace for an employee who is vision-impaired.
However, if an employer would experience an undue hardship in attempting to make the requested accommodation, the employer is not obligated to provide the accommodation. Undue hardship to the employer occurs when the accommodation would be too expensive or too burdensome for the employer to provide. Additionally, an employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation requested by the employee if another modification would serve the same purpose and would be easier for the employer to provide.
Read more about disability discrimination.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is defined as a physical or mental health problem that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This definition also applies to people who have a history of such a condition or who are believed by others to have such a condition. Many states have similar standards in place, and in places such as California, the definition of who can be considered disabled under the law is even broader. Examples of qualifying conditions may include a spinal injury, seizure disorder, heart condition, or mental health impairment.
Read more about disability discrimination.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that permits employees to take extended leave, usually up to 12 weeks, from their jobs without being in jeopardy of losing their position. Employers commonly extend FMLA leave to employees when the employees have a serious health condition that prevents them from performing their jobs. FMLA leave is also given for the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, or providing foster care for a child. Employees are also covered by FMLA if they need to care for a parent, child, or spouse with a serious health condition, and in certain emergency situations arising from an employee’s spouse, parent, or child serving in active duty in the military.
Eligible employees can usually take FMLA leave for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. Additionally, FMLA guarantees only that employees’ positions will not be terminated during their absence. The law does not guarantee continued pay to employees during their leave. To be eligible for FMLA coverage, employees must have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 12 months, and the employer must have at least 50 employees.
Read more about the FMLA.
The use of racial slurs in the workplace can be considered harassment or lead to the creation of a hostile work environment, both of which are illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. This is true regardless of whether such comments are directed to you personally or you are simply exposed to them. However, in most cases the use of such comments generally must be severe and pervasive in nature in order for the conduct at issue to be considered illegal. State and local laws against employment discrimination may be broader in scope, and more protective of employee rights, than the federal standard.
Read more about race discrimination in the workplace.
An employer must accommodate employees’ religious beliefs if the exercise of the religious belief does not cause undue hardship to the employer. An undue hardship occurs when accommodating employees’ religious beliefs incurs extreme costs to the employer, jeopardizes workplace safety, causes inefficiency in the workplace, encroaches on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to take on a disproportionate amount of difficult or hazardous work.
If the employer does not experience an undue hardship, the employer must accommodate employees’ religious beliefs. Employer accommodation can include actions such as allowing employees to observe religious holidays, wear certain items of clothing, or refrain from wearing certain items of clothing, if their religious beliefs require them to do so. Examples of other accommodations include flexibility in shift or work schedules, permitting shift substitutions to accommodate observance of religious holidays, reassignment of tasks or work projects, and making modifications to workplace practices or policies.
Common clothing accommodations include permitting employees to wear headscarves, turbans, or yarmulkes, or allowing employees to have certain hairstyles or facial hair that would otherwise not be permitted. Employees do have a duty to fully explain their need for the religious accommodation if the employer inquires, and the employer should be able to request more information regarding the reason for the accommodation, if needed.
Read more about religious discrimination in the workplace.
A perpetrator and a victim of sexual harassment need not be of the opposite sex, nor must the harasser be male. Sexual harassment victims can be male, and/or of the same sex as the perpetrator.
Read more about sexual harassment.
It is illegal to pay men more than women if both parties are performing the same tasks for the same exact job. Paying men more money than women if both parties are performing identical job tasks is considered sex discrimination and is strictly prohibited by both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both are federal laws that apply to private sector employers. The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits government employers from discriminating against employees because of their sex. An employer that is engaging in sex discrimination could be subject to investigation and imposed remedies by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as possible legal action taken by female employees who feel that they are receiving unequal pay.
Read more about gender/sex discrimination.