What is Workplace Discrimination?

What is workplace discrimination?
What is workplace discrimination?

Have you been passed over for a job or promotion even though you were super qualified to do it? If you didn’t get that job because of factors that had nothing to do with your ability to do the work, you might have been a victim of discrimination. Discrimination occurs when an employer refuses to hire, promote, or continue working with an employee because of his or her identity. It’s hurtful and frustrating when your job opportunities are limited because of factors that have nothing to do with how well you can do your job, and in Ohio many types of discrimination are illegal.

If you have been discriminated against, it can help to realize that you are not alone. An average of approximately 91,000 discrimination complaints are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year, and that doesn’t count complaints made to the Ohio State Employment Commission or that are settled via lawsuits in court.

Ohio Discrimination Laws

In Ohio, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or potential employees based on their race, sex, national origin, religion, disability status, military status, or retaliation for engaging in protected conduct (e.g. protesting workplace conditions). It is also illegal to discriminate against employees who are over the age of 40, and in some cities it is illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. These categories are called protected classes.

Ohio discrimination laws only apply to businesses that have more than four and less than 14 employees. If a business has more than 14 employees, any discrimination claim is considered a federal issue and goes to the EEOC, and extremely small businesses are exempt from discrimination laws.

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Discriminated Against?

It can be tricky to figure out whether or not discrimination has actually occurred. Businesses have the right to make hiring decisions that are in their business’ best interest and hire/promote/fire based on issues related to work performance. In addition, Ohio is an “at will” employment state, which means that in most cases they can fire people without giving any reason at all (This is not true if you have signed a contact to work for a certain amount of time, belong to a workers’ union, or can prove that you were discriminated against.)

It can be helpful to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I have reason to believe this decision was made because I was a member of a protected class?
  2. Were there any work-related reasons for this decision (e.g. was I late or absent a lot? Did my supervisor speak with me about my job performance?)
  3. Do I have the skills I need to perform this job well?

It is important to look honestly at what happened. If there was a work-related reason for the decision, it likely was not discrimination even if you felt like your supervisor didn’t like you for a discriminatory reason.

It’s also important to look at the reason the employer gave you for the decision. Sometimes an employer will give you a vague reason or a reason that doesn’t ring true. If you can prove that the employer was making excuses and that their stated reason is false, it can help bolster a discrimination claim.

Finally, think about the person who was hired or promoted in your place. If he or she is not a member of a protected class, you may have a case for discrimination, especially if that person is less qualified to do the job than you are.

What to Do

If you believe you have been discriminated against, your first step is to document everything. Start by writing down the answers to the questions above. You should also write down any comments that your supervisor made that could help prove discrimination. For example, if your supervisor made derogatory comments about people of a certain race or gender you need to write them down. In addition, save any letters or memos your supervisor gives you related to the hiring decision.

Once you have this information, your next step is to contact a lawyer. You might be tempted to file a complaint with the Ohio Employment Commission, but it’s important you talk to a lawyer first because filing a complaint with a state or federal employment board constitutes a waiver of your right to sue in court. A lawyer can go over all of your options with you and help you decide what the best thing to do is.

Discrimination is painful and frustrating, especially if your employer gave you a bogus reason for the decision that makes it sound above board. But don’t despair! Gather your documentation and call Friedman, Domiano, & Smith today for a consultation.

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