Marital Status Discrimination in the Workplace

By Douglas Lipsky

Marital status discrimination should be a thing of the past; however, this subtle form of workplace discrimination continues to manifest in several ways. If you’re facing unfair treatment based on your marital status, legal protections are in place. This blog delves into how to identify and fight back against marital status discrimination. 

What Is Marital Status Discrimination?

Marital status discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfairly in the workplace due to their married, single, divorced, or widowed status. This lesser-known form of discrimination can subtly permeate various aspects of employment, affecting decisions from hiring to promotions and benefits. Examples of marital status discrimination include:

  • Denying a single employee a promotion because of a presumption that they lack stability compared to married colleagues.
  • Making derogatory comments about a divorced coworker.
  • Denying certain benefits, like spousal health insurance, to employees based on their marital status.

Such discrimination typically manifests in the workplace through biased decision-making processes. These biases, whether intentional or unconscious, can lead to unequal opportunities and a hostile work environment for those affected. Employees must recognize these signs of discrimination and understand that they have legal recourse to challenge and rectify such unfair treatment.

Legal Protections Against Marital Status Discrimination

In New York, employees are protected from marital status discrimination under both state and city laws. The New York State Human Rights Law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on marital status in all aspects of employment, including hiring, compensation, promotions, and termination. Similarly, the New York City Human Rights Law offers even broader protections, ensuring that employees within the city receive fair treatment irrespective of their marital status.

No specific federal equal employment opportunity law explicitly mentions marital status; however, various federal laws can be applied in cases where marital status discrimination overlaps with other forms of discrimination. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act can be leveraged in cases where marital status discrimination intersects with gender or racial discrimination. Navigating these complex legal protections requires the advice and guidance of an experienced employment discrimination attorney. 

Legal Remedies

Employees who suspect they are victims of marital status discrimination have several rights and remedies at their disposal. Initially, they should document any incidents of discrimination, gathering tangible evidence such as emails, witness statements, and records of any differential treatment. This documentation is crucial when filing a complaint, as it provides concrete proof of the discriminatory behavior.

Once sufficient evidence is gathered, employees can file a complaint with their HR department or directly with the New York State Division of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies can investigate the claim and, if necessary, take legal action against the employer. Additionally, employees have the right to seek legal counsel to pursue a lawsuit for damages, reinstatement, or other remedies that a court deems appropriate in response to the discrimination.

How An Employment Attorney Can Help

An experienced employment lawyer can help to address marital status discrimination in the workplace. They bring a wealth of expertise in navigating the complexities of employment law, ensuring that your case is handled efficiently and effectively. An attorney can evaluate your situation, advise on the strength of your claim, and develop a strategic approach to address the discrimination. By partnering with an experienced employment lawyer, you significantly increase your chances of a favorable outcome, whether it’s through a settlement or a court ruling.

The Takeaway

You have a right to be treated fairly at work, whether you are married or single, divorced or widowed. If you have experienced marital status discrimination in the workplace, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.