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Understanding Discrimination in the Workplace: What Is Discrimination?

Workplace discrimination can have devastating consequences from lower employment rates for diverse workers to financial losses. However, defining discrimination and harassment in the workplace is complicated, and many employees are unaware of their rights and the laws that protect them. Keep reading for a closer look at discrimination, labor laws, and more.


According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination occurs when a person treats another differently or less favorably for being a member of a protected class. Discrimination may occur between hiring managers and applicants, supervisors and their team, co-workers, and peers.

The essence of discrimination is negativity, fear, or hatred for members of a protected class. In other words, a person may treat their peer differently or actively exclude them from opportunities based on their identity or origin.

The EEOC specifically outlines protected classes as those who face discrimination due to:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Citizenship
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Genetic information

Why Does Discrimination Occur?

Discrimination is rooted in fear or negative perceptions for a protected class. These fears and feelings are often the result of bias or prejudice.


Bias is an inclination for or against a person or group of people in a way that is unfair. When bias exists, it is difficult to make a fair assessment of a situation or individual. Bias is often the result of negative personal experiences. A teacher may assume that their favorite student is not responsible for classroom disruptions and attribute the issue to their least favorite. Biases in the workplace restrict aspects of the business from hiring to wages.

For example, a hiring panel at a large chemical engineering research facility are evaluating candidates for a new lead researcher position. The panel favors male candidates over female candidates even though both genders are equally qualified for the position. Scientific fields are male dominated and biases exist that make hiring women difficult. This is gender bias, and it not only affects hiring but pay as well.


Prejudice on the other hand is a preconceived opinion that is not based on personal experience and is instead directly tied to stereotypes or assumptions that are reinforced in society. In most cases, prejudice is the result of ignorance or learned behavior.

For example, an employee may not want to sit beside or interact with their gay coworker out of fear that their peer might hit on them at work. Alternatively, a religious employee may face adverse action from their employer for tardiness or poor performance when, their decision is actually based on the employee’s religious practices.


Discrimination is the mistreatment or exclusion of a person based on their membership in a protected class. Many workers and employers may carry biases based on personal experience that could lead to discrimination. Negative treatment can also be the result of prejudice which is not based on experience but rather stereotypes or learned behavior.

If you are facing discrimination in the workplace, contact Eldridge & Blakney, PC.