What is Discrimination?

November 17, 2017
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Discrimination, in its simplest form, means treating someone differently because of a characteristic or trait that person has, often because of prejudice.  Discrimination, in some forms, is illegal under both state laws in Maryland and federal laws.  It is important for workers to understand when discrimination is illegal and to take action if they are the victim of discriminatory actions that affect their work opportunities.

A Baltimore discrimination lawyer can provide help to a worker who believes his or her career has been harmed by prejudice or unfair treatment.  It’s beneficial to understand exactly what types of discrimination are prohibited by law so you can get a clear idea of whether you should contact an attorney about your treatment in the workplace.

What is Unlawful Discrimination?

While discrimination can take many forms — for example, an employer could prefer to hire someone who is not overweight or someone who has a preference for a particular political party — the law only prohibits discrimination based on certain traits.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, or color.  The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability status, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of advanced age.

If discrimination is not prohibited, it is permissible for an employer to hire, fire, or make employment-related decisions based on any characteristics that the employer wishes. It would not, for example, be unlawful for an employer to fire someone for being a fan of a particular sports team.

There are some types of discrimination that are not prohibited by federal law but that state laws make unlawful. For example, while federal laws do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on LGBTQ status, many states have extended anti-discrimination laws to prohibit employers from taking gender identity or sexual identity into account when making workplace decisions.

Discrimination is not only unlawful in the workplace, but is also illegal in many other circumstances as well. Landlords cannot engage in housing discrimination and businesses that serve the public cannot engage in discriminatory conduct.

In a workplace setting, laws against discrimination are broadly defined. Employers, for example, are obviously prohibited from taking someone’s protected traits into account. An employer could not refuse to hire or promote a woman, or could not fire a person for wanting to express his religious beliefs.  However, anti-discrimination laws extend beyond this overt discrimination to prohibit other behaviors as well.

If a person is made to feel uncomfortable at work because of his protected status, such as being subject to racial jokes, this is considered to create a hostile work environment and employers can be liable for damages to the worker under anti-discrimination laws. If an employer imposes a test that happens to disqualify more people who are part of a protected class, such as a strength test that disqualifies more women, the test could also be considered a form of disparate impact discrimination and an employer could be sued by workers unless the employer has a bona fide reason for instituting that requirement.

Because there are so many behaviors in the workplace that could be considered unlawful discrimination on the part of employers, anyone who suspects they are being treated unfairly at work should consult with a Baltimore discrimination lawyer for help. Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at 410-514-6099 or reach out to us online today.