Discrimination in the Workplace: What to Do If You’re Getting Screwed
Discrimination, racism, and sexism have been on everyone’s mind — particularly of late. Though discriminatory practices have always been, and likely always will be, an unfortunate part of life and business, we’ve made significant strides toward curbing them in recent decades. Some groups still lack federal protection, but efforts are underway to change that. Still, discrimination in the workplace is still a rather common occurrence.
Let’s take the plight of Asian-Americans, for example.
A lawsuit was recently filed by the Department of Labor against Silicon Valley startup Palantir. The suit alleges that the company discriminated against Asian job applicants. The company has since denied those claims — but the numbers paint a striking picture. For one position, Business Insider reported, 1,160 candidates applied, 85% of whom were Asian. 14 non-Asians, and 11 Asians were hired to fill the open positions.
The odds of that happening? “The likelihood that this result occurred according to chance is approximately one in 3.4 million,” the lawsuit said.
Asian-Americans have also been discriminated against by universities and colleges. Harvard and other Ivy League schools have received complaints, reportedly for not admitting qualified Asian candidates.
Discrimination in the workplace: Still prevalent
As the proverbial cherry on top, President-elect Donald Trump’s new right-hand man Steve Bannon has also said some choice things about the Asian-American community (among many, many others). Bannon has suggested that there are too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley, apparently expressing worry that Asian-Americans have too many positions of power or influence in the business sector.
This is a man who is soon to be the President’s chief strategist in the White House. Discriminatory and prejudicial thinking (or those who express them), it seems, has found its way to seats of significant power.
But what about others? Discrimination can take a lot of forms. Your age can bar you from certain jobs. Your gender, sexual orientation, or race as well. Even your religion (or lack thereof) and political ideology are on the list.
Federal protections extend to some of these characteristics. Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws prohibit job discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The Equal Pay Act of 1963 offers protections from “sex-based wage discrimination.” There are laws against age discrimination (individuals over 40). Protections exist for people with disabilities.
But there are still groups left out, and these laws, in some cases, only apply to federal jobs. Further, just because these laws and legal protections exist doesn’t mean that they’re always applied. Just because discrimination is happening doesn’t mean anyone’s doing anything about it.
If you’re curious, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission goes into further detail.
What to do if it happens to you
There are state and local laws that apply further protections for some groups as well. And again, many of these laws only apply in certain circumstances, and for certain jobs. In some places, it’s still perfectly legal to fire or discriminate against homosexuals or transgender people, for example.
It’s confusing, and if you feel that you’ve been a victim of discrimination in some shape or form, you might not know what to do. There are avenues for recourse — it’s up to you to decide how you want to proceed.
The first thing you should do, however, is to document anything you can. If something is in writing, save it. Take a picture. Start compiling evidence. Make notes of personal interactions — when and where, who, and what happened. Talk to anyone who witnessed it. Gather as much information as possible.
From there, you have to choose where to go. If you’re already an employee, you can approach HR or any internal resources the company has. Most big companies will have some sort of process. Remember, though, that HR departments exist to protect the company. Not you. So, it may be advisable to avoid them.
If internal resources aren’t an option, you can go bigger. You can file a report, or Charge of Discrimination, with the EEOC. Individual states have ways to file reports, too.
Finally, you can take legal action. Consult with a lawyer and see if you have a case. Attorneys specialize in employment law — search for a local specialist. There are also outreach and advocacy groups that you can contact to seek help.
Your last option? Quit, or simply walk away. It can be frustrating and disheartening, but sometimes it’s best to cut your losses. Going after an employer can be time consuming and expensive, and you might not have much of a case.