Employment discrimination is defined as the unfair treatment of an employee by their employer based on the employee’s race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. Such discrimination is prohibited by federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and others. In Pennsylvania, the law further prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s association or relationship with a disabled person, use of a service animal, and having earned a GED rather than a high school diploma.
Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms including:
- Unfair treatment in the hiring process
- Denial of promotions or benefits
- Termination, including forced early retirement or layoffs
- Assignments and classifications
Types of Employment Discrimination
Although obvious examples of egregious mistreatment exist, employment discrimination can also be subtle and occur as many small incidents instead of one significant event. Therefore, it is important to understand what qualifies as unlawful discrimination so as to be able to distinguish unfair treatment from illegal treatment. While an employee may experience unequal treatment arising from factors such as nepotism or favoritism, this is not prohibited by law.
Unlawful discrimination happens when an employer takes adverse employment action against a member of a protected class of people. This can mean targeting an employee’s
- Race – Employment decisions cannot be based on the assumed traits or abilities of a racial group. Both intentional discrimination and policies that seem neutral but are designed to negatively affect members of a certain race are illegal.
- National origin – Similarly, an employee’s country of origin cannot be a deciding factor in job-related matters. Neither can being married to or associated with a person of a specific country of origin. This includes membership or attendance in cultural organizations, schools, churches, temples, mosques, or any other group associated with a person’s country of origin. Some cases of national origin discrimination may also involve religious discrimination and discrimination based on citizenship status.
- Sex/gender – Employers may not discriminate against a person because they are male or female. Gender discrimination is further addressed in the Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women in the same workplace be paid equally for equal work.
This category of discrimination also includes sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Pregnancy, along with childbirth and any related medical conditions, is considered a temporary disability. As such, an employer may not refuse to hire a pregnant applicant; demote or fire an employee because of their pregnancy; refuse to allow an employee on pregnancy leave to return to their same or similar job; or treat a pregnant employee differently from other temporarily disabled employees.
- Religion – Religious discrimination can happen when an employer refuses to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, or conversely when an employee receives unfair treatment because of their lack of religious belief. Any employment action based on an individual’s religion, religious beliefs or request for religious accommodation is prohibited by law.
- Age – The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers 40 and older from discrimination based on their age.
- Disability – Individuals who are qualified to do a job, but have a disability, must be treated the same as workers without disabilities. They are protected by law from discrimination based on their disability or perceived disability as are workers who are associated in some way with a person with a disability. Furthermore, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
- Genetic information – Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 took effect in November 2009, and prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s genetic information because it is not relevant to an individual’s current ability to work. It also restricts employers from requiring, requesting, and purchasing or disclosing such information. Genetic information is defined as an individual’s genetic tests as well as those of their family, and any family medical history because this information can show the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members.
Help for Those Who Have Been Discriminated Against
If you feel you have experienced employment discrimination you should first file a complaint through procedures outlined in your employer’s handbook or with the human resources department where you work. Retaliation against an employee who files a complaint is strictly prohibited by law. You may want to seek the counsel of an experienced employment lawyer who will help protect your rights. Many employers are not cooperative with investigations and may become hostile or threatening towards you. A knowledgeable employment lawyer can help you file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for regulating workplace discrimination.
Pittsburgh Employment Lawyers at AlpernSchubert, P.C. Advocate for Those Who Have Experienced Discrimination on the Job
If you have experienced workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, the dedicated Pittsburgh employment lawyers at AlpernSchubert, P.C. will fight to hold your employer accountable and recover the compensation you deserve. Call 412-765-1888 or 800-243-6095 today to discuss your legal options with one of our attorneys. You can also contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation. From our offices in Pittsburgh we represent clients throughout Western Pennsylvania, including those in Allegheny County, Lawrence County, and Washington County.