Discrimination may be generally represented as any situation where a person is treated less favorably due to their membership or association with a certain group or characteristic, such as their sex, age, gender, political affiliation, religion, or disability. It can also refer to circumstances in which one group is treated more favorably than another group based on specific characteristics or backgrounds.
These characteristics or backgrounds are known as “protected classes” under anti-discriminatory laws. They usually include race, religion, sex, age, gender (often including a person’s status as LGBT), nationality, and disability status. Some laws may consist of other categories as well.
Federal, state, and local laws prohibit certain individuals from engaging in discriminatory behavior. This includes individuals such as employers, landlords, lenders, and other parties. A prevalent situation involving discrimination is where an employer refuses to hire someone based on their race.
Employment discrimination may occur when an employee (or potential employee) is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely because of certain characteristics. It can also include other issues such as harassment involving discrimination (for example, harassing a worker due to their age), termination or denial of benefits, or other characteristics such as a person’s status as a temporary or seasonal worker.
Federal employment discrimination rules can create miscellaneous legal consequences for instances of discrimination. Each state also will have its laws regarding employment discrimination. These can vary by state, so it’s essential to check your local laws before deciding what actions to take.
Employment discrimination can also happen when one group of employees is treated better than another, based again on protected classes or categories defined by various laws. An example of this is where one group of workers receives benefits denied to others based on their sex.
Such discrimination generally happens when a person is already hired. However, it can also occur when a person is still seeking employment (such as when they aren’t hired because of a particular religion).
One of the most typical examples of employment discrimination is where a potential employee is not hired solely based on their race, age, or other protected status. Another typical example is where a current worker is denied benefits or a promotion due to their membership in a protected class.
Of course, many wrongful termination claims are closely related to discrimination claims. It is common for many individuals to be fired based on their sex, age, gender, or other classifications, making it illegal under discrimination statutes.
What Are Some Examples of Discrimination?
Discrimination claims can be based on a wide range of claims and disputes.
Some of the more common instances of discrimination include:
Other discrimination cases may also be based on less common or less well-known characteristics and backgrounds. Many of them have to do with discrimination based on medical conditions. It is typically unlawful to discriminate against a person exclusively because they have a legally-recognized medical condition.
Examples of these types of discrimination include:
- ADHD and ADD discrimination
- Discrimination against the deaf
- Genetic discrimination
- Medical leave discrimination (for example, firing someone because they took a valid medical leave of absence)
- Pregnancy discrimination (usually covered under Pregnancy Discrimination Act laws)
Besides these, there are still other less well-known discrimination claims, which may include:
- Accent discrimination
- Immigrant discrimination
- LGBT discrimination
- Sex discrimination (especially with regards to grooming and appearance)
- Transsexuality discrimination
- Wage discrimination
Also, some discrimination cases may involve multiple factors. There may be some very rare exceptions to discrimination laws. For example, religious organizations sometimes have a right to discriminate based on religion (excluding potential members based on their religious background).
All employees have a general right to a discrimination-free workplace. As mentioned, many federal, state, and local laws guarantee workers a right to be free from discrimination in the workplace.
This includes the right to fair pay, benefits such as medical and vacation, and promotions. Employers cannot deny workers these benefits if they qualify for them based on their membership in a protected class. They also cannot terminate employees in a discriminatory fashion.
In particular, federal employment discrimination laws deliver robust protections against discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, and other classes.
Many federal anti-discrimination regulations also make administrative agencies or departments whose role is to investigate discrimination claims and to deliver a suitable remedy. An example of this is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If there is a complaint about discrimination in the workplace, say concerning age, workers may file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC will then investigate the claim and select a suitable remedy (for example, reinstating an employee to their former position if they were fired based on their age).
Federal and state laws also ban employers from retaliation against an employee who has filed a discrimination claim. For instance, if an employer files a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, their employer is forbidden from terminating them in retaliation for filing the complaint.
What Are Employment Discrimination Remedies and Damages?
The remedies for employment discrimination depend on the kind of losses or damages caused by the discrimination. Remedies in an employment discrimination claim often include:
- Payment for lost wages;
- Reinstatement to the previous work position after a wrongful termination;
- Reinstatement of lost benefits (such as lost retirement benefits); or
- Modifications to the company’s policies and practices.
Filing a claim can also help locate other instances of discrimination, so it can be beneficial for an employee to file a claim if needed. Employers cannot retaliate against a person who has filed a discrimination claim (even if the discrimination claim is not proven accurate). For example, it is against the law for an employer to fire a person because they have filed a discrimination claim against them.
How Are State Employment Discrimination Damages Calculated?
When calculating damages in employment discrimination, a worker may obtain compensatory and punitive damages in an intentional employment discrimination case based on their race, color, sex (such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), genetic information, religion, or disability.
Are State Employment Discrimination Damages Limited?
Some elements might affect the outcome of an employment discrimination claim. For example, if it turns out that there was some other motivation for why an employer took action, it could impact the plaintiff’s damages award. If it turns out that the employer fired an employee due to poor performance and not their race, their claim may be impacted.
State laws may also limit the number of damages or the type of remedies involved in such cases. These can differ from state to state. It is in the employee’s best interests to work with a lawyer who can help sort out these limitations.
There are limits to the maximum amount of compensation for discrimination a person can recover in a lawsuit. The limit is based on the size of a business, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
- For companies with 15 to 100 employees, the limit is $50,000.
- For companies with 101 to 200 employees, the limit is $100,000.
- For companies with 201 to 500 employees, the limit is $200,000.
- For companies with 500 or more employees, the limit is $300,000.
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages an employer must pay for particularly heinous workplace actions. These damages don’t reimburse a worker for actual losses; rather, they intend to punish the employer to prevent them from engaging in similar future demeanors.
Most claimants cannot recover punitive damages, and even when they are awarded, punitive damages can be challenging to recover and quantify. As a result, the court can ask the employee to demonstrate a significant burden of proof regarding punitive damages. The amount of the award is entirely at the jury’s discretion.
Should I Seek Help from an Attorney?
Employment discrimination cases can be complex and may involve many different parties. You may need to hire a discrimination lawyer in your area if you need help with a claim. Your attorney can help you organize your case. If you need to file with an agency like the EEOC, your lawyer can also guide you through that process.