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What is Employment Discrimination?

There are several ways in which employers can discriminate against job applicants and employees, including denying you a job based on your race, or paying you less money because of your country of origin.

In 2012 there were nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Below you’ll learn about some of the main types of employment discrimination and the resources you need to file a complaint.

Discrimination by Race or Color

Race discrimination occurs when an employer treats you unfavorably because of your race. Specifically, employers cannot:

  • Deny you employment or harass you at work because of your racial characteristics, including your skin color, facial features, hair type, etc.
  • Segregate you from other employees or not allow you to have contact with customers.
  • Ask for personal information during a job interview that might reveal your race, and then use this information to deny you employment.

Sex-based Discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against you based on your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Examples of this type of discrimination include:

  • Sexual harassment at work, including unwelcome sexual advances or sexual favors.
  • Offensive remarks about someone’s sex or gender identity.
  • Unfavorable treatment of women who are pregnant.

Disability Discrimination

People with disabilities have protections under federal laws and cannot be treated unfavorably in the workplace. This includes employees who have a family member with a disability. When it comes to disability discrimination:

  • Employers cannot ask you whether you have a physical or mental disability. They can only ask if you are able to perform a certain job.
  • Companies must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Age Discrimination

The law protects both job applicants and employees who are of age 40 or older from discrimination at work. For example, employers cannot:

  • Advertise age preferences of applicants in job postings.
  • Ask about your age during a job interview unless it was made for a lawful purpose.

Discrimination by National Origin

People born abroad who have authorization to work in the United States have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. Employers cannot:

  • Fire, suspend or deny you employment to because of where you were born.
  • Treat you unfavorably because of your foreign accent or your ability to speak English.
  • Mandate you to speak English only at work (unless it’s done for non-discriminatory purposes).

The EEOC has a full list of discrimination practices by type. Visit to learn how to file an employment discrimination claim. You typically have 180 days to file a complaint, but you may have more time depending on your state and local laws.

How to File a Work Discrimination Claim

Work discrimination is not only wrong, it’s illegal.

The U.S. government has laws that prohibit work discrimination based on age, disability, place of origin, race, religion and sex, as well as pregnancy and other things. These laws protect both employees and applicants.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency in charge of enforcing work discrimination laws at the federal level, and anyone who has been the victim of employment discrimination can file a claim.

In 2011, the agency received a record of almost 100,000 work discrimination claims, and obtained more than $455 million in compensation for both employees and job applicants. The information below will give you a general idea of how the process of filing a claim works.

How to file a claim

You can file a claim in person or by traditional mail at any local EEOC office. Please note that the process is different for federal employees.

In most cases you must file your discrimination claim no later than 180 days after the date of the incident. However, the deadline can be extended up to 300 days depending on the type of discrimination that occurred and also on state and local employment discrimination laws.

Call your local EEOC office to find out on how they handle appointments and walk-ins. If you’re filing by mail, you will need the following information:

  • Your name, address and telephone number as well as those of the employer.
  • The number of employees that work for the company (if known).
  • A description of why you think you were discriminated against and the type of discrimination you were subjected to.
  • The date of the offense.
  • Your signature.

What Happens during Investigation

The EEOC will evaluate your complaint and contact the employer within 10 days to request more information about the incident. They might ask both parties to participate in the agency’s mediation program (see below).

If an investigation is open, representatives from the agency might visit the employer to obtain documents and gather more information. They might also interview witnesses by phone or ask for documents by mail.

Investigations can take several months depending on where the complaint was filed and whether the parties involved try to resolve their issues through mediation.

How Mediation Works

Mediation is an alternative and effective way to resolve work discrimination disputes. With the help of a neutral mediator, both parties will try to resolve their differences without determining who is right and who is wrong.

A few things you should know about mediation:

  • It’s voluntary and can only take place if both parties agree to do it.
  • Can help speed up a resolution to the case.
  • Can help avoid long investigations and lawsuits.
  • It’s free and confidential.

You can check the status of your work discrimination case by calling (800) 669-4000.