What do I need to know about workplace discrimination laws?

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedSep 14, 2022
1 minute read

Colorado and federal anti-discrimination laws guarantee equal access to public accommodations, housing, and employment regardless of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), marital status, family status, religion, national origin, or ancestry. It’s important to understand that discrimination is not tolerated. Here are more things you should know about discrimination laws.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary federal law safeguarding employees from racial discrimination in the workplace. Under Title VII, an employer with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against an individual because of their ..

  • race or skin color
  • religion
  • sex or sexual orientation
  • national origin
  • genetic information

Any of the following actions could be considered discrimination under Title VII, or the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) if an employee can show such actions were taken because of their membership in a protected class.

  • Hiring, firing, or taking disciplinary actions
  • Establishing terms of employment and working conditions
  • Allocating payment, benefits, or perks
  • Considering promotions or other opportunities
  • Classifying or segregating employees in a way that denies them opportunities

In most American cases of discrimination based on race or skin color, the terms can almost be used interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between them that can come into play from time to time.

Race discrimination occurs when individuals are treated unfairly because of unalterable physical characteristics attributed to their race. For example, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against Asian persons because of physical characteristics like facial features or height.

Color discrimination occurs when individuals are treated differently than others because of their skin pigmentation. Color discrimination can occur between individuals of the same ethnic group.

In equatorial nations with warmer climates, and particularly in Asian countries, darker skin color has been associated with individuals of lower-class ancestry who spent their lives doing hard labor in the sun. Lighter skin colors are associated with prestige, wealth, beauty, and higher education.

Just because color discrimination is tolerated in another nation does not mean it will be tolerated in the United States. For example, if an individual of Indian ancestry is working at a tech firm where members of management are also Indian, but of lighter skin, the darker-skinned employee could file a workplace discrimination claim if they’ve been treated unfairly due to their darker skin.

Yes, they do.

While the phrase “at-will” indicates that an employer can terminate a worker’s employment for any reason — or even no reason — all employees are protected under anti-discrimination laws. If you feel you’ve been terminated based on prejudicial treatment, you can file a discrimination claim against your former employer.

Yes, they can do that.

For all of Title VII’s broad anti-discrimination protections, it provides an exception for “religious organizations” and “religious educational institutions,” such as faith-based private schools. This is because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants all residents the right to worship as they wish. Therefore, organizations and educational institutions whose “purpose and character” are primarily religious may prefer to hire adherents to the same religion.

Religious organizations may not otherwise discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

You possibly do have a viable age discrimination claim, even if the person receiving preferential treatment is also over the age of 40.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, protects individuals who are 40 and older from employment discrimination based on age. It is illegal to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment.

Some employers might try to take advantage of the fact that workers aged 40 and older are protected, and use this provision of the ADEA to justify unfair treatment of even older, more experienced employees. This flies in the face of the intention of the Act.

If two employees are similarly situated — in this case, both over the age of 40 — then an age discrimination claim can still be brought forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if the worker getting preferential treatment is substantially younger than the one making the charge.

By the same token, a 41 year-old worker who is terminated and replaced by one who is 38 probably will not be able to show a prima facie case of age discrimination.

Retaliation is an adverse and often discriminatory action made against a person who has filed a complaint or charge, participated in an investigation or charge, or currently opposes an employment practice made illegal by any the statutes. Employees are protected from retaliation in the EEO process.

The most blatant forms of retaliation include:

  • Denial of promotion or refusal to hire
  • Denial of job benefits
  • Demotion or suspension
  • Termination
  • Threats and reprimands
  • Negative performance evaluations
  • Harassment

Note the common denominator in the examples above: all are used to impede the targeted person’s career advancement, either directly or by creating a hostile work environment.

Why is this important to understand? Because there is a gray area where passive-aggressive treatment might, or might not be, considered retaliation by the EEOC. For example, if you cooperated in a former employee’s successful lawsuit against the company you work for, and no longer get invited to certain social functions by management, can that be considered a reprisal?

In many cases, no. Even if management did not invite you because you made a discrimination claim, or supported another employee’s claim, this would not constitute unlawful retaliation because it is not likely to interfere with protected activity in the workplace.

On the other hand, if this kind of exclusion becomes too frequent or severe, such as everyone but you being invited, it could amount to illegal retaliation. This is because by then it could reasonably interfere with protected activity and/or contribute to a hostile work environment.

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