Discrimination in business is a complex subject, but at its core, it revolves around whether or not you are being treated fairly and equally by an employer. Most types of discrimination fall into one or more of the following categories – if you believe you’re being discriminated against and it doesn’t match any of these, you may need to consult an attorney for more information.
Race and Ethnicity
Race and Ethnicity are an unfortunately common source of discrimination in the workplace, despite the fact that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits using race or color in regards to many hiring decisions. It also rejects the use of stereotypes for potential employees, but this doesn’t always stop companies from displaying a bias.
Example: Generic Business Company is a national corporation with offices in twelve states. Twenty-seven percent of its workforce is African-American, and another ten percent is Hispanic, but executive and managerial positions are staffed exclusively by Caucasians. Darryl Johnson is an African-American who has been with the company for seventeen years, and has performed as well (or better than) many people who have been promoted to managers… and repeatedly been denied a promotion despite the fact that his performance demonstrates he deserves it. He is probably being discriminated against.
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Often referred to merely as ‘sex’ in documents, there are times when one’s gender or sexual orientation have an adverse impact on their ability to succeed within the company. This type of discrimination is typically – but not always – financial.
Example: Betty Brown is a manager at Generic Business Company, where she makes an annual salary of $60,580. This is an average salary for female managers in the company, but male managers have an average salary of $75,931, even if they perform worse (and have been employed for a shorter amount of time) than Betty. This is a probable case of gender discrimination, and Betty would be entirely within her rights to inquire about the discrepancy.
Some companies don’t like the costs associated with having older workers, but federal guidelines are clear that age is not an acceptable reason for denying promotions, hiring, or benefits.
Example: Robert Jeffson is a 54-year-old male who has been with Generic Business Company for 30 years. Over that time, he has performed well and steadily been rewarded with raises. However, an economic downturn has cut into the business’ cash reserves, and it decided to fire him because of his ‘inappropriate age for the position he holds’. Robert has a discrimination case on his hands.
This is the most complex area of discrimination. Companies cannot discriminate against employees who suffer in a way outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, neither are companies required to lower their quality standards or go to “undue hardship” to provide for that employee.
Example: Carl cannot use his legs, and requires a wheelchair to move around the office. Generic Business Company hired him, but refused to provide him with an elevator key, slowing his movement between floors… then fired him for “consistently failing to move between areas in a timely manner”. GBC’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability, then blaming him for problems caused by this, is a clear case of discrimination based on a disability.
Note: In all cases, there are times when exceptions are made to the rules. For example, many companies require bathrooms to be cleaned exclusively by individuals of the same gender as those using it. Refusing to hire a woman to clean the men’s bathroom – or the other way around – is not necessarily discrimination.