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The basics of employment discrimination

Employment discrimination occurs when a job applicant or employee is treated negatively based on race, national origin, skin color, disability, religion, gender or age. Workplace discrimination involves more than circumstances of hiring and firing. Discriminatory actions also include bias in promotion, compensation, job assignment and retaliation. Learn how employers may discriminate based on different factors and what you can do if you are a victim.

Race and skin color discrimination

Individuals are sometimes denied equal opportunity because they are part of a certain race. They may also simply have particular racial features or characteristics that an employer discriminates against. Employers might also deny equal opportunity based on complexion or skin color. Race and skin color discrimination may also include treating an applicant or employee unfavorably due to his or her relationship with someone of a different race.

Sex discrimination

Employers may discriminate based on a person's biological sex or gender identity. This type of discrimination occurs to both men and women. Treating a pregnant woman unfavorably also falls under sex discrimination. Pregnancy is supposed to be handled with special consideration in the same way a temporary condition or illness would.

Religious discrimination

People of all religions-and no religion-are entitled to equal employment opportunity. Religious customs and beliefs should not bar someone from being employed or otherwise treated unfavorably. Reasonable accommodations must be made for religious observances when it does not cause excessive negative consequences to the employer.

National origin discrimination

Employers might deny employment opportunities to people based on where they are from, their ethnicity or accent. Sometimes unjustified requirements of English-fluency are the basis of national origin discrimination. Employers are not allowed to enact unjustified English-only or English-fluency requirements.


When a job applicant or employee claims he or she suffered discrimination, sometimes the employer will retaliate. Retaliation itself is considered a form of workplace discrimination. Actions that are fall under retaliation include:

  • Harassment
  • Failure to promote
  • Termination

Complaining or reporting employment discrimination does not warrant employer retaliation. Individuals can file complaints and participate in investigations without fear of retaliation.

Despite progress made in terms of employment rights in recent history, harassment and discriminatory practices still occur. If you feel like you have been denied opportunities or terminated based on discriminatory ideas, you may have a basis for a legal claim. Consulting with an employment discrimination lawyer can help you make sense of your situation and what actions you should take. Every worker is entitled to be treated fairly and equally.

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