Discrimination Basics: What Categories Are Considered Discriminatory

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Business owners and employees should always be on the lookout for discriminatory practices occurring in the workplace. Complicating this area of the law is that each state has its own laws regarding discrimination and each state has different classes of protection. In addition, local ordinances may offer individuals further protection. This post will cover the general nature of common discrimination classes but, when in doubt, you should always seek advice from an attorney in your state.


On the federal level, it is illegal to take any discriminatory action against individuals who are age 40 and over. Discriminatory actions are those taken because of an individual’s age and can include harassment and bias in compensation, hiring, job assignments, promotions, termination, and retaliation. While federal law protects individuals age 40 and over, other states may have their own statutes that protect younger workers.


Taking any discriminatory action against an individual with a disability, including an individual that has a history of a disability and an individual who is believed to have a disability, is a violation of federal law (specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended “ADAAA”) as well as various state laws.

If an employee or applicant qualifies for protection under the ADAAA, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to the individual unless doing so would cause the employer to experience a significant difficulty or expense. However, it can be difficult for a business owner to prove that a reasonable accommodation is too difficult or expensive and employers should almost always be encouraged to engage with the individual to find a solution to the problem.

National Origin

Discriminatory actions based on national origin occur when an employer provides unfavorable treatment to an individual because the individual is from a specific part of the world or a specific country. Sometimes ethnicity, accent, or other characteristics can contribute to the reasoning behind an adverse employment action, so it is important for a business owner to be aware that national origin is a protected class under the law.


There are a number of race-related characteristics that can be considered discriminatory, including treating someone unfavorably based on race, skin color, hair texture, and even certain facial features. It is also important to note that the race of an individual’s spouse or another associated person can form the basis of a discrimination claim.


Religious discrimination occurs when an employer treats someone unfavorably due to that person’s religious beliefs. On the federal level, that protection extends to those who belong to traditional organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism and it also extends to those who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. You should also keep in mind that each state, especially states with diverse populations, may protect additional religious classifications.

Sex & Sexual Orientation

Treating an individual unfavorably due to his or her sex, or due to his or her association with an organization that is generally associated with people of a certain sex, can be deemed discriminatory. In fact, on the federal level, it is also discriminatory to discriminate against a person who is transgender.

However, sexual orientation is not yet solidified as a protected class. While some local and state governments protect individuals based on sexual orientation, the federal government has not taken that step yet.

If you have a question regarding employment discrimination, especially in Kansas or Missouri, please contact one of our Employment Law Attorneys today.

Image: Thinkstock/chris2766

*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.

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