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What do I do if my workplace feels discriminatory?

Most members of minority groups have experienced the uncomfortable and humiliating feeling of discrimination. It might happen on a public street, in someone's home or even at work. While it's illegal for an employer to discriminate based on race, gender, age, religion, nationality and other factors, that doesn't always stop it from happening.

Often, the slight of discrimination is felt before you've identified the action. Mistreatment stings, even if you can't say why. It can be hard to pinpoint hard evidence and to know when to file a complaint.

Identification is the first step

A recent Q&A in The New York Times explores this common scenario, with input from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and employment lawyers. To combat discrimination, you need to be able to identify it and take action.

As you examine the situation, there are a few important steps to take:

  1. Determine why you feel you're discriminated against. Often it's a gut feeling that something isn't right. While this is a normal response to mistreatment, the court requires specific examples of discrimination, showing how your race, gender, etc., was the cause for an action. Your gut is likely right, but you need to look beyond your initial reaction to identify the illegal action.
  2. Talk with management. If the offending party is management, speak with HR or a higher-up. Because discriminatory behavior is often subconscious, companies may be unaware of the issue. Discuss how to improve company communication to solve any disconnects. Take detailed notes.
  3. If problems persist, then you may want to file a complaint with the EEOC or speak with a lawyer.

The EEOC, retaliation and legal action

The EEOC is a legal entity to protect minority classes from discrimination. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the commission has addressed discrimination concerns for over 50 years. The EEOC will examine your case: either dismissing it or responding with a Right-to-Sue letter.

It's natural to worry about job security when you file a complaint or speak up about mistreatment, but it's also your right to a safe and comfortable work environment. Many lawsuits related to workplace discrimination include claims of retaliation, which is a separate offense. It is illegal to fire or punish an employee for a discrimination complaint.

While anyone can file a complaint with the EEOC, by working directly with an experienced lawyer who focuses on employment law, you can make sure you cover all your bases, protecting your job while taking the necessary steps to create a better environment. Nobody should be put down in the workplace because of who you are--it's the law, and as a responsible employee, it's your job to help create a better workplace for everyone. A discrimination complaint isn't a provocative act, it's a solution to a problem.

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Sean A. Casey Attorney at Law
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