Common Types of Workplace Discrimination
Under federal and state employment law, employees are protected from workplace discrimination. Workplace discrimination
includes hiring, compensating, promoting, or firing employees based on
their membership in a protected class. Under federal law, protected classes
include age, disability, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, and sex:
An employee may file a claim if she is age 40 or older and feels that
she has been the subject of age discrimination in the workplace. An employee
can claim age discrimination regardless of the age of person who allegedly
discriminated against her.
Disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or
applicant with a disability unfavorably because she has a disability.
Disability discrimination also covers employees and applicants who have
a history of a disability (such as cancer that is controlled or in remission)
or because the employer believes they have a disability. The law requires
an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or applicant
with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty
or expense for the employer.
An employee may file a claim if he feels that he has been treated unfavorably
because of his accent or ethnicity, or because he appears to be of a certain
ethnicity. This classification also extends legal protection to a person
who is associated with or married to a person of a certain national origin
or a certain ethnic organization. An employee may file a claim based on
national origin discrimination even if he or she and the defendant are
of the same national origin.
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee)
unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related
to pregnancy or childbirth.
If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition
related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must treat her in the
same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. Impairments
resulting from pregnancy may also be considered disabilities under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Race discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably
because he is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics
associated with race (such as hair texture or facial features). Color
discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color
complexion. It is also illegal to treat an employee or applicant unfavorably
because he is married to or associates with people of a certain race or
color. Race/color discrimination can occur even when the victim and the
pepetrator are the same race or color.
The basis for these types of claims is broader than you might think. Federal
employment law forbids workplace discrimination based on a person’s
organized religion, such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism.
But it also applies to individuals who have non-traditional ethical, moral,
or religious beliefs.
Sex and Gender
Workplace discrimination claims are often filed on the basis of sexual
harassment or sex discrimination. A man or a woman may
file a sex discrimination claim. Furthermore, it is illegal under Title VII to discriminate against a
person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including
The District of Columbia Human Rights Act provides even more protections,
including, for example, marital status and political affiliation. For
more information about the Human Rights Act, visit
the Office of Human Rights’ website. For more information about federal discrimination law, you can visit
the website of the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
While it’s not uncommon for a disgruntled employee to bring an unjustified
workplace discrimination claim against an employer, you should take any
such claim seriously. Contact an employment lawyer in D.C. promptly if
your business is facing a discrimination claim. Your attorney can defend
you from claims of discrimination as well as retaliation and hostile work