One Out of Four Workers Have Experienced Workplace Discrimination

Nov. 10, 2008
With unemployment rising and competition in the workplace increasing, it’s tough to get a job – or get ahead – in today’s market. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that more than one in four American adults – 27 percent – say they have encountered employment discrimination.

A new survey by asked 1,000 American adults if they believe they have ever experienced discrimination by an employer in job interviews, hiring, pay or promotions. For those who answered “yes,” he most frequently cited forms of discrimination involved race, age and gender. Among the survey’s findings:

  • 42 percent of African Americans have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace.
  • One out of ten women (10 percent) claim they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace.
  • One out of seven people age 45 and older (15 percent) claim they have experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • One out of eight people age 18 to 24 (13 percent) say they have also experienced age discrimination.
  • While racial discrimination was highest in the South, age, gender and religious discrimination were most likely to occur in the Midwest.
  • Of those who said they have experienced discrimination in the workplace, the most commonly cited types of discrimination were: race (39 percent), age (34 percent), gender (30 percent), religion (7 percent), sexual orientation (7 percent) and other (26 percent).

According to, anti-discrimination laws regulate all aspects of work including hiring, firing, promotions, job duties, wages, benefits and reviews. An employer’s work policies must be applied to all employees in a nondiscriminatory manner.

“It is important to note that not all discrimination is prohibited by law,” said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor at “Only discrimination based upon a classification that is considered ‘protected’ – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability or union activity under the federal anti-discrimination laws – is illegal. For example, paying an employee lower wages than other employees because of differing work duties, experience or even attitude is not discriminatory.”

Rahlfs also noted that policies and actions that do not appear discriminatory on their face may nonetheless be prohibited under the law if those practices have the effect of discriminating against people in a protected class. For example, refusing to hire any applicant who has a child under the age of 5 is not discriminatory on its face, but may still be considered prohibited discrimination since that kind of policy would have the effect of discriminating against women. offers the following suggestions for those who believe they have been discriminated against in violation of the law:

  • Bring your complaint directly to the attention of your employer and attempt to resolve the problem informally. Your employer may not be aware that people within the organization are discriminating, or he or she may want to address your complaint and fix the problem.
  • If you want to pursue a legal remedy, you should act relatively quickly. Anti-discrimination laws have strict time limits for making a claim. Federal laws require employees to file a complaint first with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit in court. In some circumstances, an employee is also required to file a complaint with the state agency charged with enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
  • Get expert advice. State antidiscrimination laws can vary widely. Web sites such as offer online lawyer directories that can help you find an attorney in your area who is experienced in employment law.
  • If you are fired or not hired for discriminatory reasons, you should look for another job. Do so even if it seems that you are entitled to the former job. If you do not actively seek other work, it appears as though you are not seriously interested in employment. This can weaken your claim and may limit any award of back pay.

Additional information on employment and antidiscrimination laws can be found at

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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