Discrimination vs. Disparagement in the Workplace

Discrimination

Does it seem like your boss is always picking on you? For some reason, you get written up for things that your co-workers do without consequence? Maybe your supervisor never approves your vacation time requests? Or do you feel like you were passed over for a promotion, though you were the most qualified candidate? Feeling singled out may lead you to believe you are being discriminated against. Discrimination is broadly defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”. However, in a legal environment, discrimination is defined a bit differently. In order for the treatment you are experiencing to be considered bona fide discrimination, it MUST be based on your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other protected class. To say that your boss “just doesn’t like me” with no prior indication that their dislike is based on a protected attribute does not equal discrimination.

You may be asking, what is a protected class? “Protected class” refers to specific characteristics rather than all people with that characteristic. Per anti-discrimination laws, protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age (40 and older). People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because they possess a protected attribute, they are automatically protected from termination for any reason at all. This is not the case. For example, a lay-off of 50 employees includes someone that is 60 years old. They are not automatically protected from termination, though they are over 40 years old. However, if the employer terminated 50 people all over the age of 40, there may be cause to believe they were all let go due to their age, which would be age discrimination.

Another common scenario where one might think they have been “discriminated against”, is after being passed over for a promotion. You begin to search for answers – why didn’t you get the promotion? What could it possibly be? It can’t be your performance…you always receive great reviews. Nor can it be your experience level, as you have been with the company longer than most other employees. So what could it be? While the situation is unfortunate, and maybe unfair, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal. You would want to look back and think, do I have any real evidence to show that this was due to my (age, race, religion, etc.)? Have you ever heard any comments regarding the particular protected class you believe they are discriminating against? Whether the comments were aimed at you or someone else, whether it was serious or a “joke”, they can be very telling. Have you noticed a pattern of this happening to the same group of people in the past? If not, there probably were other factors that led to the decision of who received the promotion.

Often, people believe favoritism and discrimination are akin. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t. Favoritism is of course, frowned upon, and unquestionably bad management. But once again, unless the favoritism is based on certain characteristics, it isn’t discrimination. It’s one thing for an employer to show favor for employees that they, for example, find funny. They are always laughing with these employees and seem to give them better hours, duties, etc. because they just “like them more”, whether or not these employees are actually the hardest working or most deserving of praise. Sense of humor and ability for social interaction is not a protected class. Therefore, if your boss treats you differently because they don’t find you as humorous, it is not discrimination. However, it is entirely different for an employer to give all of the best shifts/promotions/benefits to only white employees. Because race is a protected class, this would be an example of legitimate discrimination. Another example of actual discrimination is if the boss asks everyone to pray out loud every morning. You refuse because it does not align with your religious beliefs. Afterwards, your boss seems to single you out or treat you punitively. As religion is in fact a protected class, this would be considered discrimination, and you may be able to file a claim against the employer.

If after reading this you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, contact our office. We can evaluate the situation and see if there is a potential case that we can assist you with.

 

 

 

 

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