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Discrimination is the act of treating someone differently or unjustly based upon some characteristic. Learn about legal and illegal discrimination, federal laws that protect us from being discriminated against, and more.

Definition

In its most literal sense, discrimination is the act of making a distinction between one thing and other.

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We discriminate between things on a daily basis. For example, in order for you to get dressed you have to discriminate among your pants so that you could find the correct pair to put on. You also have to be able to make a distinction between the socks in your drawers so that you could find a matching pair.

In the legal sense, discrimination means something different. Discrimination is the unequal or unfair treatment of a person based upon some personal characteristic. It is important to note that not all forms of discrimination are illegal. There are several federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace, including:

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963: Requires that men and women receive equal pay for doing the same or similar jobs.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Protects people from being discriminated against based upon their race, color, religion, sex, and their nationality.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967: Protects people who are age 40 or older from being discriminated against based on age.
  • Civil Service Reform Act of 1978: Protects people from being discriminated against based on their marital status.

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978: Protects women who are pregnant from being discriminated against.
  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Protects people from being discriminated against based on their citizenship or national origin.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against based upon their disability (or their perceived disability).
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008: Protects people from being discriminated against based upon the differences in their DNA that make it more likely that they will get a certain disease.
  • Executive Order 13087: Protects people in the federal civilian workforce (i.

    e., civilian employees who work for the military) from being discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, protects people from being discriminated against in the rental or sale of a home based upon race, national origin, religious beliefs, gender, color, familial status, or disability.Title IX of Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex in education programs and all activities that receive federal funding. This includes:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Housing
  • Health care services
  • Museums
  • Government benefits and services

Examples of Discrimination

Suppose you were a student applying to a private Catholic university. On your application you note that you are an atheist, but you would really like to go to this school because it has one of the top psychology programs in the nation.

You get a rejection letter stating that your religious ideals do not fit in with those of the Catholic university. Provided the school has not received any federal funding, its rejection of you based on your religious status is legal.However, if the school has received any federal funding (including research grants and federally funded student loans), then this is illegal. Keep in mind that most private universities receive some type of federal funds.Imagine you and a friend both complete an application to rent an apartment in the same building.

You and your friend work at the same place and have the same income and debt levels. However, your friend’s credit score is much higher than yours. Although there are several apartments available for rent, the landlord decides to rent your friend an apartment but not you due to your credit history. This is not illegal discrimination. Landlords do have the right to refuse to rent you an apartment under certain situations, including if you have low income, bad credit history, or have been convicted of a felony.Let’s say that you and your friend also had the same credit history and no felony convictions.

You find out from your friend that you were denied housing because you have a 13-year-old son and are a single parent. It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against you based on your familial status (whether or not you have a child who is under the age 18).

Lesson Summary

Discrimination is the unequal or unfair treatment of a person based upon one or more personal characteristics.

There are several federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace, educational settings, housing, and government services. Not all forms of discrimination are illegal under the law. Anti-discrimination laws protect us from being discriminated against on the basis of certain characteristics, including sex, religion, marital status, pregnancy, and race.

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