Discrimination at work is one of the hottest topics of employment law. There are a number of federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of specific protected characteristics. Almost all of these laws protect not only employees, but also applicants for employment and sometimes even former employees who are retaliated against after their employment ends.
What is Discrimination?
Discrimination means treating an employee or an applicant unfavorably because of one or more of the protected characteristics below. Discrimination can affect any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Additionally, discrimination includes harassing employees because of a protected characteristic or creating a hostile work environment based on one or more protected characteristic. Below are the most common types of unlawful discrimination.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Texas Labor Code, employers with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against an employee because of the employee’s race or color.
National Origin Discrimination
Under Title VII and the Texas Labor Code, employers with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against employees or applicants because they are from a particular country or part of the world (even if they are U.S. citizens), or because they are of a particular ethnicity or have an accent.
Citizenship/Immigration Status Discrimination
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) forbids employers from discriminating against employees or applicants because of their citizenship or immigration status. Under the IRCA, an employer cannot choose to hire only U.S. citizens or permanent residents unless required to do so by law, regulation, or government contract.
There are a number of categories of discrimination that fall under sex (or gender) discrimination, each enforced by different laws. The most common are:
- Title VII and Texas Labor Code make it illegal to treat employees unfavorably because of their sex or because of sexual stereotyping.
- Sexual harassment in the form of: (1) Quid pro quo harassment – sexual advances coupled with threats to job security, or (2) Hostile work environment – sexually harassing behavior severe or persuasive enough to create a hostile work environment. • Pregnancy Discrimination: Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) as well as the Texas Labor Code, employers cannot discriminate against an employee because of her pregnancy. A pregnant employee may also have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if her pregnancy causes temporary impairments or complications.
- Equal Pay: The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers. Under the EPA, men and women must receive equal pay for performing equal or similar work.
Title VII and Texas Labor Code prohibit discrimination against an employee because of his/her religious beliefs. It is important to note that the law does not only protect employees who belong to traditional religions (like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism), but also those employees who have any kind of sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations for those who need it.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Texas Labor Code, an employer cannot treat a qualified individual with a disability unfavorably because he/she has a disability. The law also protects employees from discrimination based on their association with a person with disabilities (like the employee’s child or spouse) and also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants with disabilities.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Texas Labor Code prohibit age discrimination against employees who are age 40 or older. The law only prohibits discrimination against older workers (age 40 or older), however. In other words, it is legal for employers to favor older employees over younger employees under age 40.
Genetic Information Discrimination
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants for employment because of genetic information (like asking the employee about his/her family’s medical history).
Generally, most discrimination laws protect not only from discrimination, but also retaliation. An employer commits illegal retaliation when it fires or otherwise retaliates against an employee because that employee filed or participated in a discrimination complaint, charge, investigation, or lawsuit, or otherwise opposed a discriminatory practice.
If you believe you may be a victim of discriminatory or retaliatory practices at work, contact a Dallas Employment Lawyer to schedule an initial consultation. Speaking and standing up to discrimination is the first step towards a workplace that is free and clear of unfair and illegal bias.