Types of Workplace Discrimination Prohibited by Law

Posted on behalf of Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC on August 21, 2017 in Labor and Employment Blog Posts

Federal and state laws prohibit various forms of discrimination in the workplace. These laws are intended to protect employees from workplace discrimination that can have a negative impact on their earning capacity or the terms or conditions of their employment.

Reviewing the prohibited forms of discrimination below can help you gain a better understanding of your rights in the workplace. If you were the victim of any form of discrimination, our Boston labor and employment attorneys may be able to help you pursue a claim to obtain compensation. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation.

What is Discrimination in the Workplace?

Workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse employment action against an employee or job applicant based on the individual’s personal characteristics.

Adverse employment action could include:

  • Refusing to hire an applicant
  • Disciplining an employee
  • Not offering the same training opportunities
  • Providing lower wages
  • Assigning an inferior position
  • Demoting an employee
  • Failing to promote an employee
  • Terminating an employee

Employers cannot take these kinds of actions based on any of the following characteristics:

Race and Color

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination of applicants or employees on the basis of several personal characteristics, including race and color. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

In addition to not showing overt discrimination on the basis of race or color, employers are prohibited from adopting policies or practices that have an unequal impact on people of a certain race or color.

An example of this form of discrimination would be an employer requiring employees to take a certain test in order to be promoted, even though certain groups score poorly on the test. Policies like these are prohibited unless they are a bona fide occupational qualification.

National Origin

Title VII also prohibits discrimination based on national origin. This includes unfavorable treatment of an employee due to his or her:

  • Country of origin
  • Ethnicity
  • Accent
  • Appearance
  • Marriage or association with a person from another country besides the United States

Another type of national origin discrimination is treating an employee differently because of his or her citizenship or immigration status. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits this type of discrimination, including hiring only U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, unless another law requires it.


Title VII also prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an employee’s or applicant’s religious beliefs or affiliation.

Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations so that employees can practice their religion. However, employers do not have to make accommodations that cause an undue hardship for other employees.


Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from using a person’s sex as the basis for:

  • Refusing to hire
  • Refusing to promote
  • Terminating the employee
  • Providing less benefits
  • Taking any other unfavorable actions

Title VII also prohibits employers from using gender-based stereotypes to treat members of one sex differently from members of the opposite sex.

Sexual harassment is another form of sex discrimination. This could include targeting an individual because of his or her sex through:

  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Displays of pornographic images
  • Unwanted touching
  • Requests for sexual favors

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There is not a federal law that protects all employees from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

However, Massachusetts’ Fair Employment Practices Law mandates that no employee can suffer discrimination based on these characteristics. The law applies to all employers in the state with six or more employees.

The law prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants based on their sexual orientation, which includes being gay or bisexual. Employers also cannot discriminate based on an individual’s gender identity, such as identifying as transgender.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants who are 40 or older. The law applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

A common example of this type of discrimination is when an older employee is terminated and replaced by a younger employee. Employers are also prohibited from using recruiting methods that are geared to attract only younger employees, such as asking for millennials and recent college graduates to apply for the job.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars discrimination against applicants or employees due to their actual disability, history of disability or perceived disability. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

The ADA also says employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, which may include:

  • Adjusting schedules
  • Providing a ramp
  • Providing unpaid time off
  • Allowing for extra breaks
  • Providing special devices that make it easier for employees to do their job


Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), employers are prohibited from discriminating against pregnant women on any aspect of employment, including:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Pay
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits like leave and health insurance

The PDA also prohibits harassment because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition. Harassment rises to the level of discrimination when it is so frequent and severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or causes an adverse employment action.

Genetic Information

Employers cannot discriminate against current employees or job applicants because of their genetic information, according to Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

Discrimination could include making employment decisions like hiring, firing, compensation, promotions and decisions on other conditions of employment.

The law also prohibits employers from requesting genetic information or requiring this information as a condition of employment.

Contact Our Attorneys About Your Discrimination Claim

If you believe you were a victim of employment discrimination, you should strongly consider discussing your claim with a Boston employment law attorney.

Our experienced lawyers can review your case and discuss possible legal options during a free, no obligation legal consultation. We have a detailed understanding of the laws governing workplace discrimination and how to apply them to your claim.

Call 1-877-692-3862 for a free, no obligation legal consultation.

Trusted & Honored by:

  • US News Best Law Firms
  • Super Lawyers
  • AV Preeminent Lawyer Ratings
  • American Board of Trial Advocates
  • The Best Lawyers in America
  • Trial Lawyer The Forum America's 25 most influential Law Firms
  • American Assosiation for Justice Leaders Forum