The 5 Most Common Workplace Discrimination Claims

The most common examples of workplace discrimination are retaliation, disability, race, sex and age. 

 Discrimination in the workplace may be illegal, but it is still quite common. Many people who are discriminated against for one reason or another are often too afraid to do anything about it or are unaware that the discrimination they are experiencing is prohibited by both federal and state laws.

If you are experiencing discrimination, then there are legal avenues you can take to prevent the discrimination from occurring and in some cases obtain damages from your employer.

The primary federal organization that oversees anti-discrimination legislation and complaints from individual workers is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).

This body is primarily concerned with employers with 15 or more employees, but the data it collects on types of discrimination in the workplace is often representative of smaller workplaces, too.

Each year, the EEOC publishes data it has obtained about the types of discrimination complaints it has received over the last 12 months. This data collection allows the EEOC to monitor changing patterns of discrimination in the workplace and informs policy making.

When all percentages are added together it might appear that there is more than 100%. This is not a mistake, but a reflection of the fact that some complaints involve more than one form of discrimination e.g. both age and race, or retaliation and gender.

Here are the top 5 examples of workplace discrimination taken from the EEOC’s 2019 data:

Retaliation (53.8%)

Retaliation in the workplace by an employer is easily the most commonly reported form of discrimination. Retaliation can take the form of minor discriminatory acts such as making it difficult to obtain promotion right through to firing a worker for something they have said or done.

Retaliation may be due to any number of reasons such as:

  • Filing a claim for workers’ compensation after a workplace injury or injury;
  • Whistleblowing, i.e. reporting a crime or breach of safety standards by the employer;
  • Taking family or medical leave;
  • Filing a complaint against the employer for some other form of discrimination e.g. age or race discrimination;
  • Complaining about sexual harassment at work.

Retaliation is prohibited by both state and federal legislation, but is often hard to prove. If you have actually been fired and believe this is because your employer has retaliated against you because of one of the reason given above, you may have firmer grounds to make a complaint to the EEOC or take legal action with the help of an employment lawyer.

Disability (33.4%)

Discrimination due to a worker’s disability is prohibited by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990. The act, which is enforced by the EEOC, is designed to prevent an employer from discriminating against anyone with a disability or retaliating against a worker who complains about being discriminated against because of a disability.

Forms of discrimination may include: hiring, firing, promotion, pay, accommodation provision, and harassment. The act does not apply if the disability actually prevents the person from doing their job effectively.

Race (33.0%)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 prohibits an employer from several forms of discrimination, including discriminating on the basis of race. For example, an employer who pays Latino workers less than other workers doing exactly the same job for the same time worked would be an obvious form of discrimination on the basis of race.

An employer who makes it an unstated policy not to employ people of color when their skills are appropriate for the job is discriminating on the basis of race.

Examples of race discrimination include firing, hiring, pay, conditions, promotion and harassment. Employers can also not retaliate against an employee who files a complaint of discrimination or harassment based on their race.

Sex (32.4%)

The same federal legislation as that for race discrimination also applies to discrimination because of a person’s sex. Sexual harassment is a common complaint in some workplaces and this is covered in federal legislation as an example of sex discrimination.

If you experience sex discrimination or sexual harassment, then the first port of call would be the EEOC or its state equivalent if you work in a workplace with fewer than 15 employees.

Age (21.4%)

Age discrimination is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). This act like other anti discrimination legislation is enforced by the EEOC. The ADEA applies to any form of age discrimination against employees aged 40 or older.

What to Do If You Have Been Discriminated Against

To ensure a complaint filed with the EEOC is investigated fully you should provide evidence of the discrimination or harassment you have experienced.

This could take the form of pay stubs, copies of correspondence you have had with HR, emails, letters or text messages from your employer and statements confirming systematic discrimination from fellow employees.

It is always best to discuss your complaint with an experienced employment lawyer before filing a complaint with the EEOC or state anti discrimination agency.

Additional Resources