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With unemployment rising and competition in the workplace increasing, it’s tough to get a job – or get ahead – in today’s market. More than one in four American adults – 27% – say they have encountered employment discrimination, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com, a legal information Web site. The most frequently cited forms of discrimination involved race, age and gender.
The survey asked 1,000 American adults if they believe they have ever experienced discrimination by an employer in job interviews, hiring, pay or promotions.
Among the survey’s findings:
• 42% of African Americans have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace.
• One out of 10 women (10%) claim they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace.
• One out of seven people age 45 and older (15%) claim they have experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
• One out of eight people age 18 to 24 (13%) say they have also experienced age discrimination.
• While racial discrimination was highest in the South, age, gender and religious discrimination were most likely to occur in the Midwest.
Of those who said they have experienced discrimination in the workplace, the most commonly cited types of discrimination were:
– Race 39%
– Age 34%
– Gender 30%
– Religion 7%
– Sexual orientation 7%
– Other 26%
According to FindLaw.com, anti-discrimination laws regulate all aspects of work including hiring, firing, promotions, job duties, wages, benefits, and reviews. An employer’s work policies must be applied to all employees in a nondiscriminatory manner.
“It is important to note that not all discrimination is prohibited by law,” said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor at FindLaw.com. “Only discrimination based upon a classification that is considered ‘protected’– race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or union activity under the federal anti-discrimination laws – is illegal. For example, paying an employee lower wages than other employees because of differing work duties, experience or even attitude is not discriminatory.”
Rahlfs also noted that policies and actions that do not appear discriminatory on their face may nonetheless be prohibited under the law if those practices have the effect of discriminating against people in a protected class. For example, refusing to hire any applicant who has a child under the age of 5 is not discriminatory on its face, but may still be considered prohibited discrimination since that kind of policy would have the effect of discriminating against women.
FindLaw.com offers the following suggestions for those who believe they have been discriminated against in violation of the law.
• Bring your complaint directly to the attention of the employer and attempt to resolve the problem informally. The employer may not be aware that people within the organization are discriminating, or the employer may want to address your complaint and fix the problem.
• If you want to pursue a legal remedy, you should act relatively quickly. Anti-discrimination laws have strict time limits for making a claim. Federal laws require employees to file a complaint first with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit in court. In some circumstances, an employee is also required to file a complaint with the state agency charged with enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
• Get expert advice. State anti-discrimination laws can vary widely. Web sites such as FindLaw.com offer online lawyer directories that can help you find an attorney in your area who is experienced in employment law.
• If you are fired or not hired for discriminatory reasons, you should look for another job. Do so even if it seems that you are entitled to the former job. If you do not actively seek other work, it appears as though you are not seriously interested in employment. This can weaken your claim and may limit any award of back pay.
The FindLaw survey was conducted using a demographically balanced telephone survey of 1,000 American adults and has a margin of error of +/- 3%.