People think of workplace discrimination as issues like age discrimination or sexual discrimination. These unlawful practices extend beyond the things you experience. There is so much more to it than that. It can be something you witness happening to another co-worker, prospective worker, or in printed material like marketing materials or want ads. It can also involve retaliation by your co-workers or company following a discrimination complaint.
Discrimination rules apply to private and public employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations. As long as a company has five or more employees in California, the law applies. Take a closer look at the 17 types of discrimination in California and actual cases from victims of discrimination.
Age discrimination occurs when anyone 40 or older is told that they’re too old to hire, receive a raise, or be promoted. Layoffs cannot be mandated for more senior workers over younger workers. Incomes, benefits, and promotions cannot be reduced or denied due to a person’s age. In addition to these protections in the workplace, a client or customer of the company cannot harass you constantly or make repeated derogatory remarks about your age.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed a lawsuit after the regional director for Oklahoma made repeated comments to workers in the 50s demanding they keep up with the Millennials or lose their jobs. Dollar General reportedly investigated the initial complaints but took no action. Two older workers were fired for reporting the discrimination to headquarters, and one other quit due to the repeated harassment.
Discrimination against applicants or employees due to their nationality or perceived nationality is illegal. It also applies to spouses.
In September, the EEOC sued a government contractor that fired 16 Hispanic janitors. The workers had 10 to 20 years in their buildings. Before being terminated, they were repeatedly subjected to offensive comments about their race, and their supervisors ignored their complaints when they reported them.
New moms breastfeeding their child have the right to a private area for pumping breast milk, a refrigerator for storage, a table and chair to set things while pumping milk, and outlets near the table. In addition, you’re allowed breaks to express your milk.
One complaint of breastfeeding discrimination occurred in the military. A supply technician needed a sanitary, private location to express her milk during her workday. Not only wasn’t she provided one, but her supervisors and co-workers made offensive jokes, causing stress and anxiety. She was offered a $50,000 settlement.
Racial discrimination occurs when you’re treated unfairly due to your race or skin color. Racial discrimination can also happen if workers are mistreated due to their spouse or partner’s race or color. Discriminatory acts can involve:
- Refusing to hire workers of a certain race.
- Giving less appealing job duties to workers of a particular color.
- Basing terminations on skin color.
A Florida company was charged with discrimination by the EEOC on September 30th. Complaints were made that a Black employee was called offensive names, told he was Black and therefore lazy, and denied performance reviews leading to a pay raise.
Gender Expression & Gender Identity
Gender expression involves how one dresses or acts. A man who presents himself as more effeminate or a woman who tends to be more manly isn’t always perceived as the “norm.” It’s okay for people to dress, talk, or do things that make them feel happy, yet some co-workers and employers continue to ridicule or harass these people.
Gender identity is similar to gender expression, only in this case, it’s discrimination against someone who identifies as a different gender. In 2019, an employee was fired after transitioning from male to female. Firing, discriminating against, or refusing to hire an employee based on their gender identity is illegal.
A New Jersey woman sued her employer when she announced her plans to transition from man to woman and was met with laughter and treated with hostility at work. When she complained, supervisors ignored her.
Gender discrimination is the more familiar one for many people. It occurs when you’re a man or woman and are discriminated against because of your sex. A well-known game developer agreed to a settlement in July after several women came forward reporting that they were forced to keep working while the men got to drink on the job. Women were paid less than men, and those who complained were often fired.
Genetic Information & Health History
Genetic information discrimination focuses on your genetic history and, sometimes, your health history. Whether you’re applying for a job or seeking a promotion or raise, your employer cannot use genetic information as a basis for hiring/promoting. They cannot use your increased risk of disease to lay you off over a less qualified employee.
In 2016, an applicant was denied a job interview because he refused to fill out a three-page questionnaire regarding his health to get a job at a Missouri farm. The applicant was awarded $10,000 in damages. Your health history is private, and an employer cannot demand you share it with them in order to advance in your workplace or land a job.
Being married cannot be used to decide whether or not a person gets a job, a raise, or a promotion. Harassing someone over their marital status is also illegal. One lawsuit involves an operations manager who was repeatedly pressured into getting married to help a stranger obtain a green card. She reported the situation to the EEOC, who filed a lawsuit.
Mental & Physical Disability
Disabilities, both mental and physical, are another type of workplace discrimination. A company cannot use your disability to deny you a raise, job, or promotion. They cannot refuse to accommodate you if things would help you do your job, such as having a wheelchair-accessible workspace. None of that can be used as a reason to fire you.
A nurse in Wyoming needed to take a leave of absence for a new disability. Her employee refused to allow her to return, even taking back the job posting to prevent her from applying. When she tried to apply for different nursing positions, they refused to hire her for any of them, too.
If you are a military member, you are protected from discrimination, too. An employer cannot refuse to hire a military member because the member may get called into active duty and need time off work. A current employee who is called into active duty must be offered their job when they return.
A furniture store refused to rehire a National Guards member when he returned from active duty. When he asked to be reemployed, his position was terminated. The store was required to pay $6,000 in damages and forced to undergo training on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or just had a child, your boss cannot use that to decide if you should remain employed, get a raise, or be the first to be laid off when you’re more qualified than others. You’re also entitled to workplace accommodations, such as getting to sit down while working or having your desk moved closer to the bathrooms when you’re suffering from morning sickness.
A Kansas hostess asked to have a stool to sit down between customers due to swollen ankles and back pain in the final months of her pregnancy. Her employers agreed but reneged when a customer complained. When she brought in a note from her OB/GYN supporting the use of the stool, she was fired. The EEOC filed a lawsuit in September.
A person cannot be treated differently or discriminated against due to their religious beliefs. The law protects any religion and people with sincere ethical or moral beliefs.
The EEOC filed a complaint against a Minnesota company that required fingerprinting. An employee’s religion kept him from undergoing fingerprinting, and the company fired him rather than offer accommodations. The company had to pay $65,000 in the religious discrimination settlement.
Whether you are gay or straight, your employer cannot use your sexual orientation in employment decisions. A California orchard learned this the hard way when they had to pay women $40,000 for forcing them to separate from other employees due to their sexual orientation.
Finally, military veterans are protected from discrimination. A national trucking firm refused to hire a military veteran who needed a service dog for his disabilities. Even though the veteran had completed the training course to get his CDL with that firm’s partner, the trucking firm refused to hire him. When he complained, they retaliated against him. The trucking company had to pay $47,500.
What do you do if you believe an employer or co-worker discriminates against you or another person at work? Read your employee manual for guidance on how to file a complaint. You need to address the situation with the contact person listed in your manual.
This can be challenging, especially if the person you’re supposed to talk to is the person discriminating against you or isn’t taking appropriate action. This is why many people prefer to speak to an expert in employment law and discrimination complaints. Shegerian Conniff has helped many workers navigate the tricky discrimination complaint steps. Reach us for a free virtual consultation.