Bad behavior and rudeness occurs in the workplace all the time. But not all bad behavior is legally actionable. This is because state and federal law generally only protect workers against behavior that is “discriminatory.” The focus is on why the behavior occurred. Our attorneys help employers and employees explore the “why” issue and provide legal advice and litigation services where disputes arise in this context.
What is workplace discrimination?
Firing or demoting a worker based on her race or religion is an obvious form of workplace discrimination. However, many forms of workplace discrimination are more difficult to detect. For example, employers may be held liable for discrimination where their is indirect evidence of discriminatory intent. Our attorneys regularly evaluate the existence and strength of “prima facie” cases of employment discrimination involving “disparate treatment” and “hostile work environments.”
Other forms of discrimination may include the following:
- Failure to intervene in a hostile work environment in which race or other protected characteristics are demeaned, stereotyped or ridiculed.
- Unnecessary physical requirements that tend to exclude women.
- Recruitment advertising and practices that tend to discourage members of certain groups from applying.
- Unnecessary “English only” policies.
These are just a few examples of the indirect discrimination prohibited under Minnesota law.
Employers can also be held liable for policies that appear to be neutral but which discriminate against a protected class. For example, if an employer adopts a program of layoffs involving only the highest paid workers, the program may be neutrally worded (because it is based only on money), but it may have a disproportionate impact on older workers who make the most money. This is referred to in the case law as “disparate impact.”
Types of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment
State and federal laws establish a framework that prohibits employment discrimination based on the following:
- Age. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against individuals over the age of 40. The Minnesota Human Rights Act also prohibits age discrimination.
- Disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibit employers from discriminating against disabled individuals who are able to perform the essential functions of their jobs with or without reasonable accommodation.
- Gender. Gender discrimination is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
- Race. Discrimination on the basis of race, whether intentional or not, is prohibited by Minnesota and federal statutes.
- LGBT. The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on LGBT status.
- National origin. Discrimination based on a person’s ancestry is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Discrimination based on citizenship status is prohibited by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.
- Pregnancy. Pregnancy discrimination protection is included under the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against gender discrimination, as well as specifically under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Pregnant women are also afforded certain rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Minnesota law also affords women a number of significant rights under the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act.
- Religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as state and local humans rights laws, prohibit employment discrimination based on religious affiliation or observance.