Types of discrimination in the workplace

According to statistics kept by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), instances of workplace discrimination continue to decline.

For 2021, 61,331 discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC—the lowest number in 25 years.

Nevertheless, discrimination continues to occur.

In this article, we highlight some of the most pervasive types of discrimination in the workplace in the hopes of raising awareness among American workers that they do not need to tolerate discriminatory conduct.

Common Forms of Discrimination in the Workplace

Federal law prohibits discrimination according to various protected characteristics.

This means that an employer cannot take an adverse employment action against you because of some characteristic about who you are.

According to EEOC data, the following were the most common types of workplace discrimination:

  • Race,
  • Disability,
  • Sex (including pregnancy),
  • Age,
  • National origin,
  • Religion,
  • Color, and
  • Genetic information.

There are many types of negative employment actions an employer could take, including:

  • Failure to hire,
  • Termination,
  • Demotion,
  • Failure to promote,
  • Reduction in pay or hours,
  • Denial of training or mentoring, and
  • Less desirable assignments.

It is important to realize that California protects more characteristics than the federal government.

For example, California also protects against discrimination on the basis of gender expression, gender identity, marital status, and other characteristics.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you illegally, then you might have a valid legal claim.


To help fight discrimination, the government protects employees from retaliation for reporting violations to the government.

For example, if you believe your employer has engaged in racial discrimination, you should be able to report it without fear that your employer will fire you or subject you to other punishment.

Unfortunately, the reality in many workplaces is that employees who speak up suffer punishment, so they stay silent, even when they have evidence of discrimination.

One key aspect of retaliation protection is that it applies even if you did not personally suffer the discriminatory action.

For example, your boss might have laid off your colleagues because of their sex. You can still report this discrimination and enjoy protection from retaliation.


Harassment is also a form of discrimination that is prohibited by the EEOC.

The most common type of harassment is sexual harassment, but it can include harassment based on any protected characteristic, such as race, sex, age, color, national origin, religion, and disability.

There are two types of harassment:

  • When suffering harassment becomes a condition of employment. For example, a quid pro quo unwanted request for a sexual favor to gain a promotion or to not be fired. This is blatantly illegal harassment.
  • When harassment creates a hostile workplace. Workers are entitled to a workplace free of harassment, and they can sue if the workplace becomes too hostile, oppressive, or insulting.

Of the two, hostile workplace claims are harder to prove because every workplace has tension.

Anti-discrimination law is not a general civility code, and you do not have a valid lawsuit every time you feel uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, at some point, a workplace becomes so hostile that a reasonable person would not feel comfortable working there. The amount of harassment will depend on the context. Although one stray joke or remark probably does not qualify, multiple insults might.

There are many types of workplace discrimination, with examples ranging from offensive words to offensive physical gestures.

To prove a hostile work environment, try to identify the following unwanted conduct:

  • Slurs,
  • Jokes,
  • Put-downs,
  • Epithets,
  • Offensive pictures,
  • Gross generalizations (“all women think that way….” etc.),
  • Threats, and
  • Intimidating conduct.

If someone physically touched you without consent, then that conduct might create a hostile work environment all by itself.

For example, if someone gropes you, then this conduct alone probably makes the workplace offensive.

Employees Do Have Options

If you have suffered any of these types of discrimination in the workplace, you might be entitled to compensation. You are not required to suffer in silence. Instead, you might be able to hold your employer responsible.

California and Federal laws aim to put you in the position you would have been in had the discrimination never happened and to compensate you for all the economic and emotional injuries you’ve suffered.

The remedies you can obtain include:

  • Being awarded back pay and benefits,
  • Being placed in the position or job you were denied,
  • Compensation for emotional and/or medical injuries caused by discrimination,
  • Attorney’s fees,
  • Court costs, and
  • Expert witness fees.

In some situations, you might also qualify for punitive damages to make an example of your employer so they never discriminate against anyone else.

The amount of damages you receive can depend upon how injured you were, how bad your employer’s conduct was, your employer’s number of employees, and your employer’s net worth.

Proving Workplace Discrimination

Some employers are very vocal about their unlawful biases and how those biases inform their employment decisions.

Whatever biased statements your employer makes, bigoted conduct your employer engages in, or prejudiced policies your employer drafts, keep copies of the documents and identify witnesses who can corroborate what you have heard and seen.

You should also take detailed notes every time your employer engages in discriminatory conduct so that you have clear testimony for legal proceedings. 

Many employers are less overt about their discriminatory practices.

Some employers even claim that negative treatment or employment actions against you were for good cause or had nothing to do with your protected characteristics. When these claims are lies, they are called pretextual reasons. 

So how do you prove workplace discrimination when your employer provides a pretextual reason for their actions?

You can gather evidence that proves you were treated differently from other employees who were in the same situation but were not in the same protected group as you.

And you can gather evidence that proves your employer’s “justifications” do not make sense.

This evidence can include:

  • Personnel records,
  • Employer correspondence,
  • Employee handbooks,
  • Employment contracts,
  • Witness testimony,
  • Wage records, 
  • Statistical evidence,
  • Disciplinary records,
  • Complaint records, and 
  • Commendations. 

From the moment you perceive discrimination, gather as much of this evidence as you legally can.

If you are unable to legally access information that can prove your case, an experienced workplace discrimination attorney can use legal tools to gather the rest.   

Contact Workplace Rights Law Group Today

Discrimination affects far too many people, and few employers truly suffer the consequences of violating these important laws.

At the Workplace Rights Law Group, we are committed to securing a fair and non-discriminatory workplace for all California residents.

To that end, we help clients file discrimination charges with federal and state agencies and pursue court cases to get our clients the relief they need.

To find out more about how we can help, please contact us today. We offer a free case review that you can schedule by calling 818-925-1572. Please avoid delay.

Employees who have suffered discrimination have a limited amount of time to file a complaint.


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