Discrimination is a ghost that won't go away, haunting workplaces even in 2016. Laws put in place to combat discrimination have been a tremendous help in equalizing the workplace and making it a more harmonious place to be, but those laws have not yet been able to get rid of all discrimination. That means keeping your eyes out for possible problems is still necessary. However, just seeing something that looks on the surface like discrimination is not enough to actually take a case to court. You have to prove that there was an intent to discriminate, lest you end up complaining about something that was done for a very good reason.
Times When Prohibition Is Not Discrimination
Many cases of discrimination involve some sort of prohibition, like prohibiting employees with certain racial backgrounds from being promoted. However, not all prohibition is discrimination even when the prohibition seems to target certain groups, and it's the intent that makes the difference.
For example, forbidding employees from speaking Spanish at all in the workplace, even during personal conversations during lunch, could be seen as discrimination. But requiring employees to speak only English in meetings, for example, because English is a common language between all the employees in a company where most, but not all, of the employees speak Spanish might not be considered discrimination.
The difference is that in the first case, the prohibition appears to be targeting the language for no necessary reason in an unacceptably vague way. The intent appears to be close to bullying. But in the second, the prohibition is in place so that everyone is included in the meetings and no one is left out of important discussions at work. The intent is to ensure inclusivity.
When Intent Is a Smokescreen
There are times when a rule is passed with a seemingly legal intent, but the implementation goes way off course. For example, a company creates a new rule stating English should be the only language spoken during meetings in that company where most speak Spanish but everyone speaks English. But then, in meetings, people who speak Spanish to each other are reprimanded, but a group of other employees regularly start speaking to each other in Russian in the meeting and are not told to stop. Then that rule could be seen as discrimination because the implementation did not match the stated intent and unfairly targeted Spanish speakers.
If you think you've been involved or have witnessed discrimination, talk to an attorney who specializes in discrimination cases, such as the Law Offices of Jeffrey Needle. He or she can help you figure out what evidence you'll need to gather and whether a complaint to a state labor board or an actual court case are appropriate.