In the United States, a protected class is a societal characteristic which is subject to federal anti discrimination legislation. The term is particularly relevant within the workplace and in the real estate business as a means of providing equal opportunities and preventing harassment. Here is a list of the ten classes which are protected by federal law (unless otherwise stated, these are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964):
- Age (Those over the age of 40 are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967)
- Country of Origin
- Disability (This was originally covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)
- Ethnicity (This was the first protected class, designated under the Civil Rights Act of 1866)
- Familial Status (i.e. married/unmarried, parent/childless. This is a subject of the Civil Rights Act of 1968)
- Genetic Information (This is the most recently designated protected class. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 is designed to prevent prejudicial treatment based on an individual’s genetic predisposition to developing a disease.)
- Military Veterans (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994)
- Pregnancy (The Pregnancy Discrimination Act covers this)
When do they occur?
There are plenty of real-world examples of discrimination against protected classes. For instance, if an employee is denied a promotion based on their gender, or an applicant is a denied a job based on their religion, then the employer would be committing a discriminatory act.
For those in the real estate business, refusal to sell a property or offer a loan to a tenant based solely on said tenant’s race, religion etc. is another major example of discrimination and would be contravening the Fair Housing Act.
However, discrimination and harassment need not necessarily be perpetrated consciously in order to be actionable. They may instead occur through passivity or an unwillingness to act, for instance in an employer refusing to address accusations within the workplace. alternatively, they may result from an entirely unconscious prejudice; a bias you did not even know you had. This is why it is essential to educate oneself on the subject, and to take an active role in establishing equal opportunities work environments.
The ten characteristics listed above are by no means the only protected classes. They are however the only ones specifically covered by federal law. It is important to be aware that there are additional characteristics which are protected under state law.
For instance, sexual orientation is deemed a protected class in the following states only: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
Other examples which vary between states are gender identity and gender expression. Characteristics which are not protected by federal or state law include income (i,e. working class, middle class etc.) and criminal record.
The notion of protected classes aims to ensure that individuals are not subject to unfair disadvantages. As such, these classes are invaluable in combating discriminatory organizational policies and facilitating equal opportunities for all.