Using a standard English dictionary when looking up a legal term can be a bad idea. As an example, Webster’s dictionary defines discrimination as: The ability to understand that one thing is different from another.
So here’s the question. Have I discriminated if I chose to wear my Ravens jersey over my Orioles jersey because I think I look better in purple? The answer is yes. Have I done something wrong? That depends on who you ask. But one thing is for sure, I have not done anything illegal.
To be fair, Webster’s has another definition (it’s actually the first definition) for discrimination: The practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or other groups of people.
However that definition is overbroad in a legal context. The harsh reality is this – the law only protects certain groups from discrimination. In fact, under some laws, certain people are not held accountable at all for their acts of discrimination.
For example under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer is prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex and baccarat national origin. This means that an employer cannot refuse to hire, terminate or discriminate in the form of compensation or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive individuals of employment opportunities. However, if an individual were to file a Title VII claim of discrimination because he or she was discriminated against because of sexual orientation, they would be in a grey area of the law and the suit might get dismissed for failure to state a cognizable legal claim. The reason is because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not expressly protected under Title VII.
It is important to note that regarding Federal sector employment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has interpreted discrimination based on gender to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In addition, Maryland has passed legislation protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation. See Md. Code 157, Art. 49B.
The point? Some types of discrimination are not protected by any law, so definitions matter. Knowing what the law covers is the first step in protecting your rights. If you feel that you have been a target of discrimination in the work place, contact the attorneys at Luchansky Millman to arrange a consultation: (410) 522-1020.