Contrary to popular belief, actions taken against you that may feel are unfair or wrongful may not be illegal. Actions that are based on illegal employment discrimination may be illegal under employment discrimination laws if two things happen:
- The person being discriminated against is being treated that way because they are in a “protected class”; and
- An adverse employment action took place.
That means that the first step to determine if you have an employment discrimination case is to determine whether you are a member of a protected class. So, what is a protected class?
What Is a “Protected Class”?
Federal law and Illinois law define protected classes slightly differently. However, the basic concept is the same.
Under federal law, employers cannot discriminate against you based on your:
- National origin
- Age (over 40 years old)
- Physical or mental handicaps
- Gender Identify or Sexual Orientation
- Military Status
Illinois law also adds the following protections:
- Being a victim of domestic abuse or having obtained an Order of protection
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation and Gender Identity
- Having an arrest record, an expungement of a criminal proceeding, and in some cases, having a conviction on your record
- Military status
An individual in one of these protected classes cannot be subjected to different terms and conditions of employment, a hostile work environment, or adverse employment actions based on their protected status.
Protected Classes and Reverse Discrimination
Although employment discrimination laws were designed to protect minorities, they are written broadly. That means that they can protect those who are considered the “majority” as well.
When someone who is considered in the “majority” is treated differently because of their race, that is still considered discrimination—because the treatment they receive is based on their membership in a protected class. This concept is commonly referred to as “reverse discrimination,” and it is just as illegal in the workplace as other types of discrimination.
For example, if a male is sexually harassed or passed over for a promotion simply for being a male, that is also considered to be illegal discrimination. Remember that the idea behind discrimination laws is that everyone should be treated equally and fairly, without regard to their status as a member of a protected class.
Contact our team at Goldman & Ehrlich, if you think you have been discriminated against because of your membership in a protected class. We can help you work through your legal options.