Know your rights when it comes to job discrimination

Job discrimination is absolutely illegal. If you believe you have been discriminated against, there is recourse available, both within your workplace and beyond.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Being discriminated against in employment can be a subtle and frustrating problem. However, employment discrimination is against the law and you do have legal remedies no matter what type of job discrimination you have experienced.

The following are federal protections that apply to workplace discrimination.

Race, religion, gender, and pay

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits race discrimination and gender discrimination and makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sex, race, color, national origin, or religion. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal to pay men and women different wages if they do the same work.

Pregnancy discrimination and genetic discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against a woman because she is pregnant or has a pregnancy-related medical condition. This includes in hiring and firing, as well job duties. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because of genetic information, under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This includes genetic disease, family history, and genetic test results.

Age, disability, and military discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone aged 40 or older because of age. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is the employment discrimination law that protects people with certain physical and mental disabilities. Hiring discrimination and job discrimination are also prohibited against former members of the military under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

In addition to the federal statutes mentioned above, your state may have state laws that cover similar situations. Note that while there is no federal protection for sexual orientation or gender identity, many states have laws offering protection in these areas.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when an employer treats you differently because you are in one of the protected classes discussed above.

Discrimination can include:

  • If you are not hired
  • If you are fired
  • If you are demoted
  • If you are paid less than someone else doing the same job
  • If you are not promoted
  • If you are given different job assignments
  • If you are harassed
  • If you report discrimination and are retaliated against because of it

If you think you may have been discriminated against, look around your workplace to see if there is a pattern of behavior or policies that are causing or leading to discrimination. Think about who is getting promoted, hired, and being given prime assignments.

  • Do you see a pattern that you believe is discriminatory based on age, race, religion, gender, pregnancy, genetics, disability, or military service?
  • Are people within one of these groups being treated differently?
  • Are you the only person in this group in your workplace, and are you being treated differently than the other workers?
  • Has anyone ever commented on the group that you belong to when talking to you about work?
  • Have you had to deal with comments that are seemingly made in jest but which highlight the group you belong to?
  • Do you feel that if you speak up you will be harassed or retaliated against?

Discrimination does not have to be intentional; it is enough if an employment practice has the effect of causing discrimination against a protected class.

What can you do?

If you believe you've been discriminated against or harassed at your existing job—based on your being in one or more of the protected classes identified above—talk with your HR department. Raising your concerns can result in positive change and, at a minimum, can raise awareness of these important issues and protections.

Discrimination is a serious matter, but if you don't speak up, it may go unnoticed. Ask that a written report be created for every complaint you make so there is a record and a response by your employer.

If you feel your complaints are not being taken seriously, or if the HR department takes no action, you may want to talk to an employment lawyer.

Under employment discrimination law, you must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a federal employment law discrimination lawsuit. The EEOC requires you to try mediation before proceeding with the lawsuit. If mediation doesn't work, you are given a Notice to Sue that allows you to proceed in court.

If you are dealing with hiring discrimination, don't be afraid to speak up. You can stand up for your rights, get results, and/or receive compensation through the courts.

Get legal help with matters related to work and residency GET LEGAL HELP
Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.