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Federal, state and local laws provide protection for employees from discrimination based on an array of protected classes. Under federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against job applicants or employees because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), and disability. Moreover, it is also illegal to retaliate against an individual because they complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or litigation. Furthermore, some state and local laws have expanded their protections to prohibit discrimination based on marital/familial status, age discrimination for employees under 40, veteran status, domestic violence victim status, and certain criminal convictions or arrest.

Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights act (as well as various state and local laws) prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual Harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct that creates an intimidating or hostile working environment. Moreover, there are generally two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo translates as “this for that,” and usually occurs when a superior requests sexual favors in exchange for continued employment, or some other work place benefit. A hostile work environment exists if an employee is subjected to frequent unwelcome advances, derogatory remarks, or other forms of harassment.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), women are protected from adverse treatment at work based on pregnancy (which is another form of sex discrimination), and are entitled to be accommodated at work just like other temporarily disabled employees. Pregnant women may find themselves being subjected to offensive comments, overlooked for promotions or bonuses, demoted or even terminated, just on the basis of their pregnancy. Moreover, while the PDA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, varying state and local laws extend their protections to smaller companies with fewer employees. Additionally, aside from Title VII, pregnant women are also generally protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, pregnant individuals are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave without fear of retaliation upon return.

Sex or Gender Discrimination

Sex or gender discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as state and local laws, and is one of the most common types of discrimination in the workplace. Sex or gender discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently from his or her coworkers because of his or her sex. Indeed, employers are prohibited from basing compensation or promotions on gender stereotypes. Moreover, the Equal Pay Act mandates employers to provide equal pay to employees who hold substantially similar positions, regardless of their gender.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which bans gender discrimination in employment settings – also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity (transgender, non-binary, etc.) and sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etc.) Put simply, the Court found that an individual who is subjected to gender-based stereotyping could also bring a claim under federal law, in addition to the relief already available under state and local laws. Moreover, gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination can come in many forms including harassment, as well as other disparate treatment with respect to the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment, including, but not limited to, denial of a promotion, demotion or wrongful termination.

Race & National Origin Discrimination

Race and national origin discrimination involves differential treatment with respect to the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment that is motivated by his or her race or national original (the country where they or their family is from). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (in addition to state and local laws) prohibit race and national origin-based discrimination at work. An example of race or national origin discrimination would be if an employer failed to promote an employee, demoted them, has disparate pay practices or terminated them, based simply on their race. Another example would be an employee or supervisor making offensive or stereotypical comments about an individual’s race or national origin.

Disability Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals based on their actual or perceived disability. The act also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to help individuals with disabilities. Moreover, a qualified individual is an employee who can perform the essential functions of the job either with or without a reasonable accommodation. Disability discrimination can arise in many forms. For example, disability discrimination can include, but is not limited to: derogatory remarks or “jokes” about an employee’s disability, refusal to grant an accommodation and/or time off to get medical treatment, demotion, or termination of an employee because of their disability or medical condition.

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a common form of discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that precludes employers with at least 20 employees from discriminating against individuals who are over the age of 40, on the basis of their age. Additionally, some state and local laws, such as the NYS and NYC human rights laws protect employees from age discrimination even if they are under the age of 40.

Religious Discrimination

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or harassing employees because of their religion and are also required to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious practices. This means that employers cannot refuse to hire, deny promotions, demote, terminate or take any other adverse employment actions that are based on a discriminatory animus towards an individual’s religion. Religious beliefs include not only established religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc., but also other sincerely held religious, ethical, and personal beliefs.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)



The FMLA provides eligible employees that work for covered employers the ability to take job-protected, unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. Additionally, employers that are covered by the FMLA are required to provide qualified employees with certain notices and information regarding their rights under the law. All public agencies as well as private employers with at least 50 employees are “covered” by the FMLA. Moreover, an eligible employee is an individual who has worked for the employer for at least 12 months, has worked at least 1250 hours in the past 12 month period, and works at a location where there are at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.  Under the FMLA, eligible employees that work for a covered employer are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave in a 12-month period for: 1. the birth of a child and to bond with the new born child within one year of birth (note that both fathers and mothers have the same right to take FMLA leave for the birth of a child); 2. the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement; 3. a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her job; 4. to care for the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent (or someone who has taken on the responsibility of caring for the child) who has a serious health condition; and 5. any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter or parent is a military member on covered active duty.  FMLA claims often accompany disability claims, especially when an individual with a disability or medical condition is denied FMLA, or some other accommodation.

If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination at the workplace, you should speak with an employment discrimination attorney about your potential claims. At Kleinman Ginzberg LLP, we have experience in advocating for clients who have been subjected to discrimination and retaliation, and would be happy to speak with you and answer any questions that you may have. Consultations are free and confidential, and since we work on contingency, we do not get paid unless we recover for you.

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