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What does disparate impact discrimination mean?

There are many protections in place to makes sure that people have the right not to be discriminated against at work. This means that if it can be proven that a person was treated negatively in the working environment because of his or her age, race, gender, disability, nationality, religion, marital status or pregnancy, he or she is automatically protected and can file a discrimination claim.

In situations where direct discrimination is present, it can be quite easy to file a claim. Say, for example, a manager is completely intolerant of his or her employee's religion to the point where he or she makes criticisms, denies a worker the reasonable arrangements to allow him or her to pray, and even demotes or fires him or her. In a situation like this, it is quite obvious that the manager is guilty of religious discrimination.

However, disparate impact describes situations that are much more subtle. It is a legal theory based on the premise that certain practices and cultures in the workplace can have a disproportionately negative affect on protected individuals.

For example, perhaps the office likes to host an evening celebrating successes over champagne every few months. At these parties, alcohol will be consumed and employees will stay late developing their relationships with their managers. However, for parents of young children and for those who do not consume alcohol, events such as these can be alienating. It means that they miss out on key social events and this in turn can have a negative effect on their career.

There are many ways that companies can facilitate a disparate impact. If you believe that you are being indirectly discriminated against, you should take action to protect your career.

Source: FindLaw, "Disparate Impact Discrimination," accessed March 23, 2018

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