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What is Employment Discrimination?

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

The workplace is one of the most common places where discrimination occurs. In 2017, over 84000 cases were received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with retaliation discrimination making up almost 50 percent of the claims. A significant number of complaints also revolved around discrimination based on race, disability, sex, and age. From this national statistic, 6.4 percent came from California. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the state’s independent agency to uphold civil rights, also reported having gotten more than 24,000 complaints of discrimination on the same year.

Workplace discrimination is the unjust treatment of an individual due to a particular personal characteristic that is protected by law. It may come in varying forms and experienced at any stage of employment. Listed below are the different types of discrimination in the workplace:

  • Age
  • Gender & Sex
  • Disability
  • Genetic Information
  • Race
  • Ethnicity & National Origin
  • Religion
  • Political
  • Equal Pay
  • Retaliation


Age discrimination occurs when people who are at least 40 years old are given fewer chances to further their career. This includes but is not limited to being denied equal benefits, having different terms of employment, and outright rejection during recruitment because of one’s age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits such misdemeanor and applies to all employers with 20 or more workers.

Gender & Sex

Gender and sex discrimination covers all forms of negative actions toward an individual based on their biological sex or sexual orientation. Gender and sex discrimination include but are not limited to the following:

  • Sexual Harassment
  • Pregnancy and Parenting Discrimination
  • Sexual Orientation Discrimination

The most common kind of sex discrimination is sexual harassment, which is legally defined as making unwelcome sexual advances or remarks. It may take on explicit forms such as asking for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits (quid pro quo), or be more subtle yet likewise result in a hostile work environment. It is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 (FEHA).

Pregnancy and parenting discrimination is when employers treat pregnant employees or those who plan to have children differently. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII to include provisions that bar prejudiced actions directed specifically at pregnant women. The act also demands employers to allow necessary leaves with equal benefits and cover pregnancy-related medical expenses the same way they would for other ailments. It does not, however, require employers to financially support abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger.

Queer-identified individuals experience sexual orientation discrimination by ways of denied employment, unfair working terms, reduced salary, and more. While this type of workplace discrimination is also a violation of Title VII and the FEHA, federal legislation still lacks stringent laws to protect individuals who do not fit into heteronormative expectations. Fortunately, increased social awareness and many other initiatives are closing this gap at a steady pace.


A common type of discrimination in the workplace is that relating to disability. Employers sometimes turn away qualified applicants because of a deformation or other notable disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 makes it illegal for employers to be prejudiced against a person with a disability, be it of a physical or mental nature. It also protects people who may develop such traits in the future like those with strong genetic dispositions to be afflicted with certain diseases. Employers are also mandated to accommodate such employees’ special needs and make reasonable adjustments so they could fulfill their tasks without unnecessary burden.

Genetic Information

Bias against genetic disposition in the workplace is related to the probability of a person contracting ailments. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) was enacted to prevent employers from discriminating against workers and interviewees based on their genetic information. GINA ensures equal opportunities for employment and human resource allocation for everyone.


Racial discrimination in the workplace is when employees or applicants are disadvantaged because of their actual or presumed race. Employers who withhold benefits, create a hostile work environment and refuse to hire individuals based on their color and other physical attributes related to their race violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ethnicity & National Origin

Some businesses discriminate against people because of their cultural background. This is called ethnic discrimination, which is banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Severe acts of ethnic discrimination include firing, cutting pay, and fabricating unfair tasks for people who belong to a specific group. Minor offenses, such as making inappropriate cultural jokes, are also punishable by law.

Title VII also safeguards people of different national origins from prejudice. According to the law, employers with 15 or more employees are to give equal opportunities to employees and job applicants regardless of their ancestry, accent, and citizenship.


Religious discrimination involves the unjust treatment of employees in the workplace based on their religion and moral beliefs. An employer is held liable for discrimination charges under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) if he or she mistreats employees because of their religious affiliation. Segregating workers and applicants, denying equal compensation, and creating a hostile work environment are some examples of acts that constitute religious discrimination in the workplace.

Aside from penalizing misconduct, the law also requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations to allow their employees to practice their religious beliefs freely. Employers are to alter the work environment, allow special clothing, and permit leaves in observance of their respective religious holidays, provided that doing so would inflict only a minimal burden to the organization.


Employees and job applicants may also be discriminated against because of their political stands and activities. While there are no specific federal laws that protect employees from political discrimination, California offers a state civil law to combat this form of employment discrimination.

Under the employment regulation and supervision section of the California Labor Code, employers should not meddle with their employees’ political activities, nor are they allowed to discriminate based on their beliefs and affiliations. They are, however, allowed to reprimand workers who disrupt the workforce by expressing their political views.

Equal Pay

All employers are required by the EEOC to provide equal compensation to their employees with identical positions regardless of personal traits protected by law. This means that men and women in a company with the same rank must be given the same salary and benefits. Failure to comply with the EEOC’s policies opens employers up to a lawsuit.


Retaliation discrimination is described as being treated unjustly after having complained about a legitimate concern such as harassment. Employees may also experience this type of discrimination in the workplace if they are whistleblowers of the company’s illegal activities.

How to File a Discrimination Complaint Against an Employer

Once you recognize that what you are experiencing is in fact discrimination in the workplace, you need to take steps to achieve justice:

Gather Evidence

Document as much of the negative occurrences as possible. Tangible evidence that could be presented in court will favor your claims and help speed things up.

Report to the EEOC or DFEH

Filing a formal complaint with the EEOC or DFEH is a must to truly reprimand your employer and gain access to monetary claims. Do not let the case sit too long without action as the statute of limitations for workplace discrimination cases in California gives you only 300 days to file.

Hire a Professional Workplace Discrimination Lawyer

Experiencing any form of discrimination in the workplace is a truly disconcerting event. Despite various laws in place to protect your rights as an employee, standing up to your employer is not a task that you should do alone. Hire an experienced and competent professional to help build and win your case. Mesriani Law Group is home to expert workplace discrimination lawyers who can lead your case with unparalleled skills and compassion. Avail of a free legal consultation today and secure the help of one of our attorneys.

About the Author
Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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