Updated on October 9th, 2023

Types of Discrimination In the Workplace

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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The federal government and the state of California both set laws that are meant to protect workers from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you or someone you know is experiencing harassment or discrimination at work, you should not hesitate to seek help from an employment lawyer.

Unfortunately, it is all too common for employees to encounter issues related to anti-discrimination laws. For this reason, it is essential to look for an employment attorney who is well-versed in discrimination law and can defend your interests.

Sex or Gender Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 protects employees from discrimination based on their gender or sex. In particular, the law mentions discrimination in pay rates. Employers are prohibited from paying employees with the same skills and experience and performing the same work at different wages based on gender or sex. Equal pay is just the beginning; other sex or gender discriminations are:

  • Hiring – not hiring an applicant based on their gender rather than their skills or experience.
  • Firing – deciding to let go of an employee over another based on sex or gender.
  • Promotion – an employee is passed over for a promotion in favour of a less suitable candidate of a different gender.
  • Benefits – allowing some employees to use long-term disability plans and not others, on the basis of gender or gender-related conditions such as pregnancy.
  • Job classification – not giving a title that would usually go along with the role based on gender. This is also related to wage inequality as job titles and wages are often linked.
  • Training opportunities – denying employees training opportunities, or only sending people of one gender to training sessions.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment often takes the form of coercion and manipulation for both women and men, creating a toxic work environment. If an employee has taken the issue to Human Resources but is still experiencing discrimination, he or she should meet with a lawyer to discuss the specifics and take legal action if necessary.

Example: Ever since Joe started his new job at a department store, he has been experiencing harassment from another employee, Meredith. Whenever he passes by her, she purposefully bumps into him, prolonging physical contact. She also touches him inappropriately while they work behind the sales counter together. Joe told his manager that Meredith’s behavior makes him feel uncomfortable, but his boss merely shrugged it off and told him to ‘lighten up.’ Joe contacts an employment lawyer to file a sexual harassment claim.

Age discrimination

People who are discriminated against according to their age have various experiences – no one story is the same. Luckily, experienced employment attorneys understand federal and local laws that are meant to protect individuals. If you were denied a job, promotions or compensation, or believe you were wrongfully fired based on your age, a discrimination lawyer can help you review your legal options.

Example: Ruth has worked in sales for the past twenty years. She recently came across an exciting new position at a different company, and based on their Indeed post, she is a great fit. But when Ruth submits her application, she receives a rejection from the company that says, “Sorry, but we want someone younger for this position.” Ruth is 47 years old, but she is perfectly capable of doing all the position’s responsibilities and tasks. Believing she has is the victim of age discrimination, Ruth contacts an employment attorney.

Disability Discrimination

Employers are legally required to provide accommodation for employees with both mental and physical disabilities or impairments. This legislation is defended on both the state level with the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and on the federal level with the ADA.

An employment lawyer can help those with disabilities know their rights, protect them in their current job, and explain their options for filing a complaint.

Example: Recently, Russell got a new job as a graphic designer. Russell uses a wheelchair, and he discovers that the office does not have wheelchair accessibility features such as ramps or widened doorways. Russell asks his employer if these changes can be made as reasonable accommodations. His employer refuses, claiming it will be too expensive, and decides to terminate Russell, saying the job simply won’t work out. Russell hires an employment attorney to file a complaint for disability discrimination.

Religious Discrimination

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, prohibits discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs and affiliations in any aspect of employment. Religious beliefs are defined in the law as moral or ethical beliefs held in the strength of traditional religious views. Employers are expected to accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless they cause unnecessary hardship to the business. The Act protects employees from discrimination and a hostile work environment caused by insults, slurs, intimidation, and abusive ridicule.

Discrimination based on the following things are prohibited under the Act:

  • Affiliation with a religious group
  • Cultural or physical traits including dress, language, or accent
  • The perception that an employee is of a particular religious group
  • Association with someone of a religious group

National origin discrimination

According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and federal law, employees and qualified job applicants may not be discriminated against based on their ancestry or national origin. If you have experienced this form of unlawful discrimination, an employment lawyer can assist you with filing a claim.

Example: Sven, originally from Sweden, has worked at an American company for two years and is excited to receive a promotion. However, his firm recently hired a new supervisor who for some reason has taken a dislike to Sven. Anytime Bob sees Sven in the office, he scowls and says, “I hate Ikea.” When it is time for Sven to receive his promotion, he does not get it. Confused, he asks his friend Chelsea why that might be. She whispers that the rumor is Bob is biased against Scandinavians. He therefore treats Sven unfairly based on his national origin. In this case, Sven should contact an employment lawyer to file a discrimination claim.

Employer Retaliation

State and federal labor laws protect employees from employer retaliation if they complain or file a lawsuit about workplace discrimination. Employers may not harass, change benefits, change job assignments, force unpaid leave, or refuse to promote, demote, or fire employees in retaliation. If you have filed a discrimination lawsuit or complaint and are experiencing retaliation, you are eligible for additional damages. Companies that are sued often hires an employment defense attorney to protect the company.


The federal Whistleblower Protection Act, along with California’s Labor Code Section 1102.5, are responsible for protecting whistleblowers. The city of San Diego protects workers from retaliation at the city level, though it otherwise follows federal and state law.

If you witness wrongdoing within a company, you should speak with a lawyer prior to exposing anything unlawful. An employment lawyer can offer information and advice concerning retaliation protection.

Making up over half of all EEOC claims in 2019, workplace retaliation constitutes the most common kind of discrimination claim.

Example: Cindy works at a high-end jewelry store where she sells beautiful necklaces and earrings worth hundreds of dollars. As the manager of the store, she also takes a look at the store’s finances. It is thus she discovers that the store owner, her boss, has been defrauding the IRS of thousands of dollars. Cindy wants to report her boss to the government, but she is afraid he will retaliate against her when he finds out what she has done. In this case, Cindy should first contact an employment attorney to learn more about how she is protected from retaliation.

Money Damages

Under Federal Law (Title VII) employees who experienced workplace discrimination may be entitled to the following:

  • Promotion or job reinstatement
  • Financial damages
  • Recovery of wages and other job-related losses
  • Injunctive relief (company must amend their policies)
  • Payment of legal fees

An employee must file a formal complaint with the EEOC before they file a lawsuit. The EEOC will investigate the claim and try to resolve the issue. If they cannot resolve the problem, the EEOC may launch a civil suit on behalf of the employee or give the employee a “right to sue” letter to allow them to file a lawsuit themselves. Act immediately because charges must be filed within 300 days of the discrimination. Contact our employment lawyers to discuss any workplace discrimination.

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