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What Is Employment Discrimination?

Discrimination generally occurs when an employee is intentionally treated differently because of the employee’s race, color, religion, national origin, disability, medical condition (cancer), gender, sexual orientation, marital status or age (over 40).

To prove unlawful discrimination, employees must be able to show that an action affecting employment was based on the fact that the employee belongs to a protected class. This may be shown by direct (clear words, pictures, documents or circumstantial evidence.)

Even if the employee’s evidence is sufficient to show discrimination, an employer may be able to justify this action by proving that there was a business necessity for it or that a legitimate job qualification required consideration of a factor that had an unintentional discriminatory effect. When the employer makes such a legitimate justification, the employee must show that discrimination, not the employer’s justification, was the true reason for the action.

What Is Harassment?

“Harassment” is a pattern of speech (verbal) or conduct (physical action) that is based on one’s race, religion, sex, national origin, age (over 40), disability, medical condition (cancer), sexual orientation or marital status that can be considered “severe or pervasive” enough to create a “hostile or abusive work environment.” The term harassment can also include slurs and any other offensive remarks, jokes, other verbal, graphic or physical conduct.

“Sexual harassment” includes unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of interfering with an employee’s work performance or creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment.

What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation is any unlawful adverse action that is taken against an employee because he or she complained about, reported or protested something, including harassment, discrimination or unsafe or unhealthy working conditions.

Retaliatory actions can include discipline, firing, salary reduction, a change in job assignment, or negative performance evaluation. It can also include hostile behavior or attitudes – from a manager or co-worker – towards the complaining employee.