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Discrimination at Work

Discrimination at School or Work

This article discusses different types of discrimination that may occur in your workplace.

What is employment discrimination under Texas law? Here, learn how Texas employment law protects you from discrimination based on certain protected categories. It's also important to know what forms of discrimination may occur in the workplace. This information will help you understand how to safeguard your rights.

Something bad has happened to me at work. Have I been discriminated against? 

Bad things can happen to any of us at work. Your employer could lay you off, cut your pay, or demote you. By themselves, actions like these are not unlawful. It could be unlawful, though, if your employer does anything like this because of a factor like race, national origin, age, gender, or disability. Texas employment law prohibits discrimination based on certain protected categories. 

Harassment in the workplace is also a type of discrimination. Threatening, offensive, harassing, or rude behavior based on a protected category could be unlawful. The behavior could come from a co-worker, a supervisor, or anyone else you encounter as part of your job. 

Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex or gender. It can happen when a supervisor or manager demands that you do something sexual in order to protect your job. It can also happen when sexual jokes, comments, or advances create a hostile work environment. More information on sexual harassment is available below. 

What types of discrimination are illegal in Texas? 

Federal and state laws prohibit employment discrimination in Texas based on the following traits: 

  • Race 

  • Color 

  • National origin 

  • Religion 

  • Sex 

  • Gender 

  • Pregnancy 

  • Sexual orientation 

  • Gender identity 

  • Age 

  • Citizenship status 

  • Disability 

  • Genetic traits 

People who belong to any of these “protected classes” have protection from discrimination. This does not mean that employers cannot take any kind of adverse action against a member of a protected class. It only means that they cannot take a negative action because of an employee’s protected class status. 

What laws govern employment discrimination in Texas?

What laws govern employment discrimination in Texas? 

Federal and state laws prohibit various kinds of employment discrimination. Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code deals with discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age. 

At the federal level, several laws cover different types of discrimination: 

What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)? 

The EEOC is a government agency that enforces federal employment laws. Texas has a similar agency that handles claims under state law. 

In most cases, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit. The agency will investigate your allegations. If it finds reason to believe that you have experienced unlawful discrimination, it will issue a “right to sue” letter. 

What is the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)? 

The TWC enforces state employment discrimination laws. Federal and state laws are similar to one another. The functions of the two agencies are also quite similar. You must file a charge of discrimination with the TWC before you may file a lawsuit in state court. 

My employer is a small employer. Do the discrimination laws still apply? 

Most employment discrimination laws apply to employers that have at least 15 employees. Two important exceptions are the following: 

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 20 or more employees 

  • Immigration and Nationality Act, four or more employees 

Do I have to be fired in order to have a discrimination case? 

No, many negative employment actions can form the basis of a discrimination claim. The law targets negative actions with significant, tangible consequences. Examples might include demoting you, passing you over for a promotion, or reducing your pay. It can also include refusing to hire you in the first place. 

Adverse actions can also be fairly subtle. An employer that denies you opportunities for professional growth, such as by denying you challenging or lucrative work assignments, could be engaging in unlawful discrimination or retaliation. 

Not all negative employment actions are unlawful, even if they are discriminatory. Moving your workspace, for example, is probably not unlawful all by itself. It could be part of a larger pattern of discrimination, though, especially if the move affects your ability to do your job. 

I reported to my employer that I was being discriminated against. Can they fire me because of my complaint? 

Your employer cannot fire you because you reported discrimination or harassment. The laws that prohibit employment discrimination also prohibit retaliation against employees who assert their legal rights. Unlawful retaliation may involve any negative action, including firing or demoting someone. 

If you believe your employer has retaliated against you, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or the TWC. You have limited time to do this, so you need to act fast. 

You must file a charge before filing a lawsuit against your employer. The agency will investigate your claims. It will issue a “right to sue” letter if it finds enough evidence to support a retaliation claim. You can find more information on unlawful retaliation at the EEOC or TWC websites. 

What are some examples of racial discrimination? 

Here are some fictional examples of workplace racial discrimination: 

  • A manager has a choice between two job applicants. They choose to hire one applicant because they are the same race. 

  • A manager decides to pay employees of one race less than employees of another race. All the employees do the same job. 

  • A supervisor sets tougher performance standards for an employee of a certain race than for other employees. 

  • A manager fires you or sends you home because of your hair texture or hairstyle which is commonly associated with race.

  • An employee experiences harassment in the workplace because of their race. 

The EEOC and the TWC have more information about racial discrimination on their websites. 

What are some examples of sex or gender discrimination? 

Sex or gender discrimination can include the following examples: 

  • An employer is considering applicants for a job. They believe women are better suited for the job, so they ignore all applications from men. 

  • An employer pays female employees less than male employees for the same work. 

  • A supervisor believes that women are likely to take parental leave. They decide to promote men over women with the same or better qualifications. 

Sexual harassment is also a type of sex discrimination. Another section of this page discusses it in more detail. 

You can find more information on sex and gender discrimination on the EEOC and TEC websites. 

What are some examples of sexual orientation or gender status discrimination? 

Sexual orientation refers to a person's romantic, emotional, and physical attraction to others. A person could be attracted to members of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. They could also not feel physical attraction to other people at all. 

Gender status describes a person’s gender identity and how they express that identity. A person may identify as male, female, or nonbinary, for example. 

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender status are types of sex discrimination. Examples may include the following: 

  • A hiring manager asks a male job applicant about what he and his wife enjoy doing on weekends. The applicant responds that he and his husband like to go hiking. The manager ends the interview and decides not to hire the applicant because of his sexual orientation. 

  • An employer offers a paid day off to employees for their spouses’ birthdays. This is only available to employees with spouses of the opposite sex. 

  • An employee tells their supervisor that they intend to transition to their correct gender. They will be changing their name and how they dress. The employer moves the employee to a lower-paid position. 

The EEOC has more information on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination on its website

What are some examples of pregnancy discrimination? 

Discrimination based on pregnancy can include the following: 

  • A job applicant states that she is three months pregnant during an interview. The hiring manager asks if she plans on taking parental leave. She says yes. The employer decides not to offer her the job because of this. 

  • An employee informs her employer that she is pregnant. She says that she will not have any restrictions on the work she can do for several months. The employer tells her to go on unpaid leave immediately. 

  • A pregnant employee is experiencing back pain from sitting at her workstation. She asks if she can take a break every hour to walk around. Her employer allows employees with disabilities to take breaks, but it denies her request. 

The EEOC’s website has more information on pregnancy discrimination

What is discrimination based on genetic information? Who does it protect? 

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) bans discrimination based on genetic information. The law protects the confidentiality of employees’ genetic information. It also limits what employers may do with that information. “Genetic information” may include the following: 

  • Results of genetic tests 

  • Family medical history 

  • Requests for medical services that involve genetic disorders 

  • Medical treatment for genetic disorders 

  • Participation in genetic research 

Examples of the kinds of discrimination that GINA prohibits include the following: 

  • An employer requires a blood test for all job applicants. It uses the blood test results to identify applicants who have a greater chance of certain types of cancer. Those applicants go no further in the hiring process. 

  • An employer asks job applicants about their family medical history. It screens out anyone whose family has a history of certain medical conditions. 

  • A supervisor harasses an employee based on their genetic information. The harassment includes insults based on stereotypes about the employee’s genetic condition. 

The EEOC has more information on genetic information discrimination on its website. 

I have a disability. What rights do I have in the workplace? 

You have the right to a workplace free from discrimination based on disability. If you can perform the essential functions of your job, your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you because of your disability. For example, suppose you are in a wheelchair, and you are applying for a job that you can do. An employer cannot pass you over because of the wheelchair. 

You also have the right to “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace. An employer can require that you can perform a job’s essential functions. You can ask your employer to make adjustments to help you do that job. Once you have asked for an accommodation, your employer must work with you to find the best one for your situation. 

If I have a physical or mental impairment, am I covered as an employee with a disability under the law?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a “disability” as follows: 

  • You have a “physical or mental impairment.” 

  • This impairment “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 

Disabilities may include physical injuries, illnesses, and psychiatric conditions. The definition is very broad, and courts have given it a broad interpretation. 

The ADA’s protections can apply in several situations: 

  • You have a qualifying disability. 

  • You have a history of having a disability. 

  • Others perceive you as having a disability. 

In other words, you do not have to have a disability to have protection under the ADA. An employer cannot discriminate against you because you have had a disability in the past. They also cannot discriminate because they think you have a disability. 

You can get more information on disability discrimination from the EEOC or the TWC

The ADA’s protections might not apply to you, though, even if you have a qualifying disability. You must be able to perform the essential duties associated with your job. For example, lifting large or heavy objects is an essential function of some jobs. If you cannot do that part of the job, even with reasonable accommodations, the ADA will not protect you. The law might protect you in a different job, though.

What is a reasonable accommodation? 

A reasonable accommodation is a change to your workspace, work schedule, or job duties that help you do your job. The type of accommodation that you might need depends on your disability. Examples of reasonable accommodations might include the following: 

  • Providing a workspace that allows wheelchair access; 

  • Offering a flexible work schedule so you can go to doctor appointments; 

  • Allowing you to take extra breaks during the workday; 

  • Letting you use a parking spot close to the building; or 

  • Adjusting your job duties to allow for issues like restrictions on lifting too much weight. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. First, you must be able to do the essential functions of your job. Your employer must then make reasonable accommodations for your disability. 

Your employer has to work with you in an “interactive process” to figure out the best way to accommodate you. You and your employer must work together to find the best way to accommodate your disability. You might have to provide information about your disability, such as medical records. This information helps your employer understand the limits created by your disability. Your employer cannot ask for more medical information than they need for this interactive process. If you think your employer is asking for too much medical information, you should consider talking to a lawyer about your rights. 

Your employer does not have to provide an accommodation if it would create an “undue hardship” for them. Whether something is an “undue hardship” or not depends on the situation. Courts have held that an accommodation presents an undue hardship when: 

  • It interferes with other employees’ jobs; or 

  • It disrupts the employer’s business. 

The EEOC and the TWC have more information about reasonable accommodations. 

I believe deeply in my religion. What rights do I have in the workplace?

Employers may not discriminate on the basis of religion. Legal protection for religious beliefs and practices has two parts. 

First, an employer cannot make an adverse decision about your employment because of your religion. This applies to all aspects of employment, such as hiring, pay, job assignments, benefits, and layoffs. You also have a right to a workplace free of harassment based on religion. 

Second, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for some sincerely-held religious beliefs. Examples might include the following: 

  • Allowing you to wear a head covering; 

  • Allowing you to keep a hairstyle or facial hair; 

  • Providing flexible scheduling for prayer or other observances; and 

  • Letting you trade shifts or take time off for particularly important religious holidays. 

You must ask your employer for an accommodation based on your religion. They have to allow the accommodation unless it would create an undue hardship. Examples of undue hardships might include the following: 

  • It is too expensive. 

  • It interferes with other employees’ rights. 

  • It interferes with the employer’s business. 

  • It requires other employees to do an unfair amount of difficult or dangerous work. 

You can get more information on religious discrimination from the EEOC or the TWC.  

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