Discrimination in the Workplace A Term Paper

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Discrimination against the elderly, against pregnant women, against women with children, against people of color are all prohibited under the law. The EEOC or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to administer Title VII of the Civil Rights act and specifically to "progress race, national origin, religious, and sex discrimination claims pursuant to the statue" (Gregory, 2003). Is the EEC doing its job? During the first year alone after the EEOC was created more than nine thousand cases were filed (Gregory, 2003).

Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt (1993) suggest that discrimination is sex blind, and that as the workforce continues to become more divers in today's global economy, there is a greater potential than ever for employment discrimination that would adversely affect a variety of individuals.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979 is supposed to protect women from discrimination based on pregnancy (Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt, 1993). Another act, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects employees with disabilities against discrimination by federal contractors (Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt, 1993). All in all the EEOC is charged with ensuring that all individuals are entitled "to equal opportunities from recruitment to termination" (Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt, 1993).

Despite these laws more than 78% of Americans still believe that employers discriminate, and 25% have reported being discriminated against at one point or another (Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt, 1993). This paired with evidence, which suggest that 1/3 of all employers, admits that discrimination is likely, still a problem within their organization (Coleman, Slonaker & Wendt, 1993).

Below is a brief summary of the primary laws that prevent job discrimination in the workplace:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Equal Pay Act of 1963

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Civil Rights Act of 1991 (EEOC, 2004).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has already been discussed. The EPA or equal pay act protects sex-based wage discrimination, meaning it protects women and men from receiving different pay based on their sex when they perform the same work. The ADEA or Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents en employer from discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability in private, state and local organizations. The ADA or Americans with disabilities act prevents an employer from discriminating against an individual that is qualified based solely on their disability status.

Other laws such as sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act prevents an employer from discriminating against qualified individuals that have a disability in the federal workplace. Lastly the Civil Rights Act of 1991 does many things similar to Title VII, but also provides monetary damages to individuals in cases where an employer intentionally discriminates against them (EEOC, 2004).

The EEOC is required to uphold all these laws.

Affirmative Action in the Workplace

Affirmative action was also implemented to protect employees from discrimination. Affirmative action can best be described as the name applied to several different policies that were developed to help combat past and present discrimination, and to provide ample opportunity in the employment world to those that were "traditionally denied" equal opportunity in the workplace (Horne, 1992). There are many different recipients of affirmative action policies including African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and non-ethnic women (Horne, 1992). It has been considered by many a "conscious effort " to reverse discrimination (Horne, 1992).

Affirmative action also requires that certain jobs that minorities frequently hold are upgraded (Horne, 1992). Some people claim that affirmative action actually results in reverse discrimination, however it was devised in fact to help right the wrongs of the past and ensure that everyone is afforded equal opportunity (Horne, 1992).

Some people feel that affirmative action is no longer necessary in the workplace, that it is an outdated method of operating primarily designed to help African-Americans. However African-Americans are not the only beneficiaries of affirmative action plans nor the only people that are discriminated against even in modern society (Horne, 1992). In fact, statistics support the notion that all nationalities are discriminated against and among women; minority women are even more likely to be discriminated against (Horne, 1992).

Affirmative action may be necessary in an employment environment where one population or subgroup of people has been continually underrepresented or disadvantaged. It truly depends on the organization. It can be a means of protecting certain classes or groups of people and ensuring that everyone in the workplace is afforded the same access to employment and the same employment opportunities. It is not designed to be a form of reverse discrimination. There is adequate evidence suggesting that discrimination still exists in the workplace. Until discrimination is completely abolished and is no longer an issue, a need for affirmative action programs and other programs geared toward eliminating inequities continues.

Human Resources and Discrimination

The laws that have been established to prevent discrimination in the workplace have numerous implications for human resource departments. The job of a human resources department includes educating the workforce about diversity and enacting policies and procedures that prevent discrimination in the workplace. A human resource department has a number of obligations under the law, including ensuring that its hiring, promoting and firing processes are not discriminatory in any way. A human resource department is tasked with the constant monitoring of employment processes to ensure that managers are also informed of anti-discrimination laws. In the event that discrimination does occur, a human resource department might be tasked with investigating the claim to determine its validity and impact.

There are many implications if a human resource department violates anti-discrimination laws. First and foremost the company faces tremendous lawsuits and fines depending on the severity of the violation.

Human resources have an obligation under the law to prevent discrimination in all aspects of employment, including: hiring, firing, compensation, transfer, promotion, layoff, job advertisements, testing, training, fringe benefits, pay, retirements plans and more (EEOC, 2002). A human resource department must also ensure that an employer does not promote harassment that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age (EEOC, 2002). The law also protects employees from retaliation if they file a charge of discrimination against an employers.

Stereotyping is also prevented under the law, as is denial of employment opportunities because of one's religion or marital status among other things (EEOC, 2002).

The primary responsibility of the human resource department is to post notices to employees that inform them of their protection rights under the EEOC (EEOC, 2002). Employers that are covered by the laws mentioned above include private employers, state and local governments and any educational institutions that employee more than 15 individuals (EEOC, 2002). Public employment agencies, private agencies, labor organizations and joint labor management committees are also covered (EEOC, 2002).

The ADEA applies to organizations with more than 20 employees, employment or labor agencies and state and local government (EEOC, 2002).

There are a number of penalties an organization may face if discrimination occurs including: back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, reasonable accommodation, fees and court costs (EEOC, 2002). The employer may be required to pay attorney's fees for the claimant, expert witness fees and general court costs as well as compensatory and punitive damages, which can amount to hundreds and thousands of dollars (EEOC, 2002).

Punitive damages generally are not awarded however in cases filed against federal, state and local governments (EEOC, 2002). In some case the offending employer may have to post a notice to employees that states any violations that have occurred and that advises them of their rights and freedom from retaliation (EEOC, 2002). Corrective action in some cases if the extent of discrimination found is severe may include enactment of affirmative action programs, which require employers to adhere to a level of reporting and program enactment to prevent future discrimination.


Discrimination in the workplace involves the act of treating or considering someone unequally based on a number of factors including their race, gender, ability, age, national origin and even religious preferences. There are a number of laws that have been passed which prevent discrimination in the workplace, the more well-known of which include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. There are also a number of specialized laws that prevent discrimination against people with disabilities among other things.

Human resource departments have an obligation under the law to inform all employees of their rights under the law. Among these rights include the right to press charges against an employer who discriminates without fear of retaliation. The penalties for not adhering to the law are severe, and may include penalties, fees and punitive damages.

Because there is evidence that suggests that discrimination is still a problem in the workplace, programs such as affirmative action programs which are geared toward eliminating and righting past inequalities still have a place in the modern workforce. Even with educational training and diversity programs a number of…

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