4 Types of Workplace Discrimination You Need to Know

types of workplace discrimination
Workplace discrimination is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. In fact, it happens more often than you may realize, and you may have experienced discrimination without realizing it. That is why it is crucial to understand the different types of workplace discrimination.

Victims of workplace discrimination can experience added stress and anxiety – it can be hard to focus at work, and victims frequently experience lower job performance. These feelings can easily creep into your personal life, leading to a lower quality of life and even health issues because of added stress. On top of that, it can be challenging to get a promotion or move up in your career if you are experiencing some type of workplace discrimination due to your gender, size, age, religion, ethnicity, ability, or sexuality.


unfair treatment in the workplace

Discrimination is any type of behavior that specifically targets an individual based on a personal attribute, such as their gender, size, age, religion, ethnicity, ability, or sexuality. Victims of workplace discrimination aren’t judged on their professional merits, but rather on their personal attributes.

Workplace discrimination is often purposeful but sometimes happens on accident. Whether intentional or note, workplace discrimination is illegal and causes damage to the victim.

It’s illegal to discriminate at any point in the employment process, from hiring decisions to firing employees, and everything in between.


Workplace discrimination can be categorized into four main types:

  1. Racial discrimination
  2. Sex/gender discrimination
  3. Age discrimination
  4. Disability discrimination

1. Racial discrimination

Racial discrimination in the workplace is based on race, skin color, ethnicity, or country of national origin. Racial discrimination examples include not hiring a qualified candidate, giving someone an undesirable job or task that they’re overqualified for, passing someone over for a promotion, or otherwise making the workplace a hostile environment based solely on the employee’s race.

2. Sex and gender discrimination

Sex and gender discrimination in the workplace are illegal yet happen every day. This encompasses discrimination based on an employee’s gender, sexual orientation, or identifying gender. It also includes pregnancy and parental discrimination. As a sex/gender discrimination example, an employer cannot pass someone over for a promotion, fire someone, or not hire someone based on their status as pregnant. Similarly, an employer cannot discriminate against parents, both male and female.

3. Age discrimination

Men and women who are 40 and older are a protected class and cannot be fired, passed over for a promotion, or forced to retire simply because of their age. It’s against the law to treat members of the workforce differently based solely on their age and assumed level of ability. A discrimination example for this protected class is telling someone they must retire because they’re too old to perform their job.

4. Disability discrimination

Employers must give fair treatment to employees with disabilities, including mobility, hearing, visual, and psychological disabilities. This includes equal employment opportunities, equal pay, and a non-threatening work environment.

Here are more common workplace discrimination examples that show how employers frequently discriminate against workers:

Examples Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination in the workplace examples for these four types include:

  • Not getting hired.
  • Being passed over for a promotion.
  • Enduring inappropriate comments.
  • Getting fired because of your status as a member of a protected class.
  • Denying an employee certain compensation or benefits.
  • Denying disability leave, retirement options, or maternity leave.
  • Preferring a candidate based solely on personal characteristics.
  • Denying a candidate based solely on personal characteristics.
  • Terminating an employee based on a personal characteristic or attribute.
  • Inappropriate or off-color comments to an employee based on personal characteristics.
  • Taking away shifts, including desirable shifts, without a professional purpose for doing so.
  • Exhibiting favoritism during promotions and company restructuring instead of promoting based on professional merit.


Everyone is entitled to fair treatment in the workplace based on these protected attributes:

  • Age
  • Country of origin
  • Disabilities (includes physical, mental, psychiatric, or intellectual)
  • Family responsibilities
  • Gender identity
  • Marital or relationship status
  • Political opinion
  • Pregnancy or potential pregnancy
  • Race/color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Trade union activity


It can be a challenge to prove you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, but it’s not impossible. With the right legal counsel and approach, you can prove workplace discrimination and get the compensation you deserve.

You can’t immediately take your employer to court in a workplace discrimination case, however. You need to first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and don’t wait to file.

Document everything

The most important thing to do if you suspect you’re being discriminated against is to keep thorough documentation of every incident. This includes conversations, email and text message exchanges, and specific details about instances when you felt you were discriminated against. You’ll need this when you file your complaint with the EEOC.

Pass the McDonnell-Douglas test

Named for a famous Supreme Court decision, the McDonnell-Douglas test isn’t a formal one, but rather a relatively simple way to determine how strong your discrimination case is. If you can answer “yes” to four specific questions, then you’ll be able to make a case based on circumstantial, instead of concrete, evidence:

  • Do you belong to a protected class? (i.e., if you’re claiming age discrimination, you should be 40 or older. If you’re claiming disability discrimination, you should have a disability.)
  • Were/are you qualified for your position? (Do you have the appropriate licensure, credentials, etc.?)
  • Did your employer take adverse action against you?
  • Were you replaced by someone not in your protected class?

Build your case with other circumstantial evidence

Even if you answer “yes” to the above questions, you aren’t necessarily in the clear. You’ll also need to answer “yes” to questions that can help you build a case based on circumstantial evidence. Here are some things to consider:

  • While employed, were you treated differently than someone who was in a similar situation but not in your protected class?
  • Did supervisors or managers make derogatory comments explicitly directed at members of your protected class?
  • Was your treatment egregious and unjust?
  • Is there a history of bias towards members of your protected class by your employer?
  • Have other members of your protected class also been singled out?
  • Are the number of people in your protected class employed at your company significantly smaller than other classes?
  • Have you heard others in your protected class discuss mistreatment from your employer?
  • Do you have statistics to back up claims of bias toward any group?
  • Were any company policies violated in your employer’s treatment toward you?
  • Did your employer retain other non-protected employees for the same job who had fewer qualifications than you?

Hire a workplace discrimination attorney

Not every attorney is specialized in workplace discrimination. You want a lawyer who is very familiar with discrimination laws and who will be able to help you through every step of the process, starting with filing with the EEOC.


If you believe you have been a victim of workplace discrimination, talk to a lawyer who specializes in discrimination. Our employee rights attorneys at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. can determine what rights have been violated and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation. We have experienced attorneys who fight for fairness, justice, and equal rights in the workplace. You’ll want a professional involved with your case as early in the process as possible to ensure you’re getting the best outcome and your rights are protected.

Offices available in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami, & West Palm Beach.

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