It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees or potential employees on the basis of age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability.
There are a number of different laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination is our state’s anti-discrimination law, and in many ways provides greater protection against discrimination than does Title VII. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a federal law that protects individuals with disabilities in a number of realms, including employment. Another federal statute prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination by federal agencies or agencies that receive federal funding. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as its name suggests, prohibits employment discrimination based on age. The Family & Medical Leave Act provides job protection for many workers who miss work due to their own illness or that of a family member. In addition to these state and federal laws, many counties and cities have anti-discrimination ordinances that protect workers in those jurisdictions.
There are four main types of discrimination: disparate treatment, disparate impact, harassment and retaliation.
Disparate treatment occurs when you are treated differently from other employees because of your age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin or disability. For example, if you are fired because of your sexual orientation, that is a disparate treatment claim. Naturally, most employers would not come out and admit that they fired someone for being gay, so an employee suing for discrimination in this case would need to rely on circumstantial evidence that his or her sexual orientation was the reason for termination. Other situations where disparate treatment claims can arise are in promotions or demotions, raises, failure to hire and compensation.
Disparate impact results when an employer uses a policy or procedure that disproportionately affects a particular protected class. The policy or procedure does not outright discriminate against a certain class, but the result is discriminatory. For example, an employer may impose a strength test for certain jobs, which would disqualify women more than men. If the ability to lift a certain strength is not related to the job, this would be a disparate impact claim. Another disparate impact claim would be a written test that would disqualify a certain class of people from promotion. Unless there is an adequate job-related justification for the test, this would be discrimination.
If you are being harassed at work, you may have a claim against your employer. Harassment or hostile work environment exists if you are experiencing unwelcome conduct from coworkers or supervisors because of your age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin or disability. At Emerald Law Group, we get many calls from individuals who feel that they are experiencing workplace harassment or a hostile work environment. However, unless the harassment toward you is related to your age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin or disability, it is not considered discrimination.
To bring a successful claim, you must prove that the harassment is so severe and pervasive that if affects the terms and conditions of your employment. In other words, mild or infrequent discriminatory comments or actions may not give rise to a legally valid claim of harassment.
It is also sexual harassment if your manager or supervisor uses his or her authority to make unwelcome sexual advances. If your boss threatens to fire you if you don’t have sex with him, this is sexual harassment. It’s also sexual harassment if your boss promises you a promotion if you do have sex with him.
It is unlawful for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting discrimination or harassment. Whether the reported discrimination is against you or someone else, your employer cannot fire, suspend, or demote you, cut your pay, or take other adverse employment action.
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