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Understanding Basic Concepts About Employment Discrimination, Part I

This three-part series will cover some of the basics of employment discrimination claims. Part I will describe the various types of employment discrimination. Part II will highlight the procedural requirements. Part III will contain an overview of how an employment discrimination lawsuit typically proceeds, from filing the complaint to discovery to settlement negotiations and trial.

What is employment discrimination?

There are several kinds of employment discrimination. Under federal law, employment discrimination can be based on, among other things, the race, gender, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, and/or age of an employee or job applicant. These categories are referred to as “protected classes.” For an employer’s conduct to be discriminatory, it must be based on the employee’s membership or perceived membership in a protected class. For example, if an employer fires a female employee, it is illegal employment discrimination if the employee was fired because she was female; it is not illegal employment discrimination if the employee happens to be female, but was fired because she was an hour late to work every day.

Discriminatory conduct can include refusing to hire someone because of membership in a protected class, subjecting an employee to different conditions of employment than other employees, not giving promotions or raises to an employee when other employees who are not in the protected class do receive those benefits, or terminating an employee because of membership in a protected class. Some examples include treating females differently by using derogatory terms towards females but treating males much better; reducing a pregnant woman’s hours or salary simply because she is pregnant when she is still able to do her job; or firing a disabled employee because he is disabled even though he is able to continuing working under the same conditions.

A further consideration in employment discrimination cases is whether a particular type of discrimination is considered illegal for a particular employer. For instance, some types of discrimination are illegal under state law but not federal law; sexual orientation is one example of a class that is not protected under federal law, but may be by state or local laws (such as in the state of Washington). In addition, only employers of a certain size, who employ more than a certain number of employees, or who are public (governmental) employers may be required to follow other types of employment discrimination laws.

Because employment discrimination laws are complex and nuanced, it is to your advantage to consult an attorney who has experience and knowledge in employment law. Contact Ada K. Wong at AKW Law at or (425) 954-3512to see if we can help you with your employment issues.

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