What Does Unlawful Discrimination Cover?
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What Does Unlawful Discrimination Cover?

As detailed above, unlawful discrimination occurs when your employer negatively affects the terms and conditions of your employment or terminates your employment due to your:

Age – If you are 40 years of age or older, and you have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have suffered unlawful age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects individuals 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age.

Disability – Disability discrimination means treating individuals differently in employment because of their disability, perceived disability, or association with an individual with a disability. If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, there are federal and state laws protecting you from job discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of your disability. You are also protected if you are a victim of discrimination because of your association (family, business, social or other relationship) with an individual with a disability.

National Origin – National origin discrimination is treating an individual differently in their employment because of the individual’s country of origin. If you have been rejected for employment, fired, or otherwise harmed in your employment because of your birthplace, ancestry, culture, or way of speaking (if it’s common to a specific ethnic group), you may have suffered unlawful national origin discrimination. 

It is also against the law to discriminate against an employee because of: marriage to, or association with, persons of a national origin group; membership in, or association with, ethnic promotion groups; attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples or mosques generally associated with a national origin group; or A family name associated with a national origin group.

Some workers experiencing national origin discrimination may also experience other forms of illegal discrimination as well, such as discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status discrimination, race or religion.

Pregnancy – Pregnancy discrimination, a form of sex discrimination, is defined as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. 

Pregnancy discrimination includes the following actions by an employer: refusing to hire a pregnant applicant; firing or demoting a pregnant employee; denying the same or a similar job to a pregnant employee when she returns from a pregnancy-related leave; treating a pregnant employee differently than other temporarily disabled employees; and Failing to grant a male employee health insurance coverage for his wife’s pregnancy related conditions if a female employee’s husband has comprehensive health insurance coverage through the same company plan.

Under the law, pregnancy is considered a temporary disability, as are related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and any other related medical condition. Your employer must therefore give pregnant employees the same treatment and benefits that it gives to employees with other temporary disabilities.

Race – Race discrimination is treating individuals differently in their employment because of their race, color, or ethnic origin. If you have been rejected for employment, fired or otherwise harmed in your employment because of your race, then you may have suffered race discrimination. Federal law prohibits basing employment decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. It makes illegal both intentional discrimination as well as job policies that appear neutral but in fact are not job-related and disproportionately harm workers of certain races.

Religion – Religious discrimination is treating individuals differently in their employment because of their religion, their religious beliefs and practices, and/or their request for accommodation (a change in a workplace rule or policy) of their religious beliefs and practices. It also includes treating individuals differently in their employment because of their lack of religious belief or practice. If you have been rejected for employment, fired, harassed or otherwise harmed in your employment because of your religion, your religious beliefs and practices, and/or your request for accommodation of their religious beliefs and practices, you may have suffered unlawful religious discrimination.

Sex/Gender – Sex or gender discrimination is treating individuals differently in their employment specifically because an individual is a woman or a man. If you have been rejected for employment, fired, or otherwise harmed in employment because of your sex or gender, then you may have suffered sex or gender discrimination. In everyday language as well as in the law, the terms “gender” and “sex” are used inter-changeably, but the two terms have different meanings. Social scientists use the term “sex” to refer to a person’s biological or anatomical identity as male or female, while reserving the term “gender” for the collection of characteristics that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness. Discrimination is generally illegal regardless of whether it is based on sex, or gender or both sex and gender. Pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment are also considered forms of sex discrimination under the law.

Sexual Orientation – Sexual orientation discrimination means treating someone differently solely because of his or her sexual orientation: lesbian, gay (homosexual), bisexual, or straight (heterosexual). This discrimination may also occur because of a perception of someone’s sexual orientation, whether that perception is correct or not.

Any of these factors need only be a deciding or prompting factor in your employer’s decision to negatively affect the terms or conditions of your employment, e.g., fire you. It doesn’t have to be the only factor, or even the most important one. You are protected against discrimination, if your membership in a “protected class” was a significant reason, if not the only one, that led to the decision to terminate your employment.

Unfortunately proof of discrimination is often extremely difficult to prove and an employee who is the casualty of unlawful discrimination usually must rely on circumstantial evidence and statistics, as opposed to direct evidence such as racial, gender or age based derogatory remarks or epithets.

Another important distinction on the validity of a discrimination claim is how people often confuse unlawful discrimination with unequal treatment resulting from other factors such as nepotism, favoritism, personality conflict, or just plain unfairness. If you are treated differently at work or terminated for any reason other than your membership in a protected class, such as those reasons mentioned above, you have not been discriminated against in the eyes of the law. Different, bad, or unfair treatment or decisions, even ones resulting in your termination, are not unlawful, however random, unjust, dishonest or baseless.

Mr. Gold is the principal shareholder of the Pennsylvania & New Jersey employment law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, a preeminent law firm in the field of employment law and civil rights litigation. His practice, as well as that of the law firm, is concentrated in the representation of both employees and employers in all aspects of employment-related litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including claims under federal and state anti-discrimination laws and federal civil rights laws.

By Sidney L. Gold & Associates, PC 
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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