The term “discrimination” refers to the treatment taken toward or against a person of a certain group in consideration based on class or category. The United Nations explains: “Discriminatory behaviors take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection.” Discrimination has many forms. There are also many types of discrimination. Discrimination may be based on sex, race, caste, religion, sexual preference, ethnic origin, nationality or any other similar aspect.
To counter the vice of discrimination, anti discrimination laws were given effect in many countries. Anti-discrimination law refers to the law on people’s right to be treated equally. Most developed countries mandate that in employment, in consumer transactions and in political participation people may be dealt with on an equal basis regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and sometimes religion and political views.
Over the years, federal and state legislators in the United Nations have worked hard to pass laws against employment discrimination. As a result of these efforts, the United States has some of the most stringent anti-discrimination laws in the world. These federal laws prohibit discriminating on the basis of:
- National Origin
The most commonly applied federal anti-discrimination law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII protects employees and job applicants from discrimination and harassment based on the protected categories of race, color, national origin, religion and sex.
Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination in employment based on disability. Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If a person with a disability is qualified for the work and can perform the essential functions of the job (with reasonable accommodation if necessary), the employer must not discriminate against the employee or job applicant.
Lesser known but of increasing importance, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against employees or job applicants who are over 40 years old.
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) dictates that women and men who perform substantially the same work for the same employer must be paid the same wages and benefits. The employer may not reduce the wages of one gender to align them with the wages of the other gender.
Most states have laws that supplement the federal laws. Some states protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, lawful non-work related activities, place of birth and other categories.
The United States is one of the few jurisdictions where claims of multiple discrimination are permitted and so legal commentators often look to US case law to see how anti-discrimination legislation could be developed elsewhere. The ability of a legal system to adequately address cases where claimants have suffered discrimination on multiple grounds is vital if the law is to be able to prevent disadvantage and to compensate sufferers sufficiently.