Can I make a "hostile work environment" claim based on race, religion or other protected categories?
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While sexual harassment is generally thought of as encompassing a different sort of behavior than racial, religious or other discrimination, these different forms of discrimination actually have many things in common. Sexual harassment, religious discrimination, racial discrimination, discrimination based on national origin, and discrimination based on disability are all prohibited by various civil rights laws. This prohibition on discrimination extends not just to hiring, firing, and promotions, but also to the environment where a person works. If a hostile work environment is created on the basis of race, religion, sexually harassing behavior, or because of any other protected status, then the party who is being discriminated against or made to feel uncomfortable at work can make a claim.
Understanding Discrimination Laws
The discrimination laws provide a wide array of protections to those who are victims of sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment doesn't always mean what you think it means. While most people think of sexual harassment as a situation where someone is promoted or not promoted based on whether he or she is willing to engage in sexual behavior, sexual harassment can also occur when a person is faced with an uncomfortable working environment due to sexual comments or sexual innuendo. In other words, if you go to work every day and there are pictures of naked women up everywhere and sexually explicit comments are being made, and this makes you feel uncomfortable as a woman, then you may have a sexual harassment case based on a hostile work environment.
If, on the other hand, there are pictures hung up every day that offend you based on your religion, race, or other protected status or if your co-workers are constantly making negative remarks about people of your race, etc., then this too can be considered a hostile work environment, just like in sexual harassment cases.
In general, a hostile work environment case can be made based sexual harassment or based on harassment reflecting protected status discrimination. In either case, if you believe you are experiencing a hostile work environment, you need to consult with a civil rights attorney or sexual harassment attorney for help as soon as possible.