What Is Disparate Treatment?

By Douglas Lipsky

Understanding disparate treatment is a subtle form of discrimination that occurs when individuals are treated unfavorably due to their race, gender, age, or any protected characteristic compared to others in similar situations. 

Recognizing such acts is the first step toward justice. But awareness alone isn’t enough; it takes an experienced employment lawyer to help you stand up for your rights. Let’s look at disparate treatment in the workplace and what you can do about it.

Understanding Disparate Treatment

Disparate treatment is an overt form of workplace discrimination in which individuals are unjustly singled out and treated less favorably because of their inherent traits, such as race, gender, religion, or age. This discrimination manifests in various forms, including:

  • Hiring and Firing Decisions: Choosing not to hire or terminate an employee based on personal characteristics rather than job performance or qualifications.
  • Promotion Denials: Overlooking qualified individuals for promotions due to discriminatory reasons.
  • Unequal Pay: Compensating employees less for similar work based on discriminatory factors.
  • Different Terms and Conditions of Employment: Imposing harsher working conditions or denying training opportunities to certain employees without a valid reason.

Disparate treatment undermines the principles of fairness and equality and erodes the fabric of workplace culture. Identifying and understanding these forms is crucial for fostering an inclusive environment where every employee is valued and respected based on their merits.

Laws That Address Disparate Treatment

Federal and New York laws provide a robust framework to combat disparate treatment in the workplace, ensuring every individual’s right to fair and equal treatment. 

At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) address discrimination against individuals with disabilities and older workers, respectively.

In New York, the State Human Rights Law extends these protections further, covering additional categories like sexual orientation, marital status, and military status, offering a wider shield against discrimination.

To prove disparate treatment, plaintiffs must establish:

  • They belong to a protected class
  • They were qualified for the job or benefit from which they were discriminated against
  • They suffered an adverse employment action
  • Circumstances suggest the action was taken because of their protected status

By working with a knowledgeable employment lawyer, you can fight back against disparate treatment discrimination. 

Identifying Disparate Treatment in the Workplace

Identifying disparate treatment in the workplace requires vigilance and an understanding of subtle cues that suggest discrimination. It’s not always overt; sometimes, the signs are subtle, making them challenging to spot. 

To discern disparate treatment, look for patterns or practices that systematically disadvantage certain groups:

  • Inconsistent Policies: When policies are applied differently to similar employees without a legitimate business reason.
  • Isolated Incidents: A single incident may not prove discrimination but may indicate a pattern if similar incidents recur.
  • Comparative Treatment: Noticeably different treatment of employees who are similarly situated but belong to other protected classes.
  • Feedback and Evaluations: Biased or unjustified negative performance reviews or feedback that do not align with actual performance or behavior.

Often, those who suffer from disparate treatment are the first to notice and raise issues. Creating an open environment where employees feel safe to voice concerns can help identify and address disparate treatment early on. Recognizing these signs is the first step toward fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Protecting Your Rights

Act swiftly is crucial if you face disparate workplace treatment. Start by documenting every incident you believe demonstrates discrimination, including dates, times, involved parties, and witnesses. This documentation can help support your case. 

Additionally, review your employer’s anti-discrimination policies and report incidents according to these guidelines. Communicate your concerns through the proper channels, typically starting with your direct supervisor or HR department, to allow your employer to address the issue.

Should the situation not improve, or if you face retaliation for raising your concerns, an employment lawyer offers guidance on your rights and the best course of action, which may include filing an administrative complaint or filing a lawsuit.

The Takeaway

Understanding and combating disparate treatment is essential for ensuring a fair and equitable workplace for all. If you believe you’ve been a victim of this form of discrimination, you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take to fight back. 

Lipsky Lowe is here to guide you through the process and seek justice. Let us help you defend your rights and work towards a discrimination-free work environment. Contact us today for a consultation.

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.