Protected Classes: Understanding Legal Protections and Rights

Learn about protected classes under federal and state laws, the importance of understanding these protections in the workplace, and how Waltman Employment Law can assist in handling discrimination claims.

rs badge min
el product min
bl b min

Imagine being judged not for your skills or abilities but for something you have no control over. This is precisely the reality many people face, which is why the concept of “protected classes” is vital. Protected classes are groups of people legally protected from discrimination and retaliation. These protections are crucial to ensuring fairness in the workplace and other settings.

In the US, federal laws safeguard people against discrimination based on race, sex, age, disability, and other key characteristics. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a significant step in fighting workplace discrimination. 

Who hasn’t wondered how different their lives might be if they faced prejudice at every turn?

Waltman Employment Law stands ready to assist those navigating the complexities of protected classes. Our team is dedicated to upholding civil rights laws and ensuring equal treatment for all employees. Dive deeper into this intricate topic with us and discover how these laws protect you and your loved ones.

Remember to contact us for a free consultation. Let us help you during these troubling times. 

What Are Protected Classes

According to Cornell Law, “A protected class is a category of individuals to whom Congress or a state legislature has given legal protection against discrimination or retaliation. The concept of a protected class is most often found in civil rights laws and constitutional law cases, but other laws covering topics ranging from employment to elections seek to prevent discrimination against protected classes.”

Federal and state laws establish these protections to ensure fair treatment and equality. The purpose of protected classes is to prevent discrimination in various areas, including employment, housing, and education. By creating these categories, the law aims to promote a fair and just society.

Here are some characteristics that can define a protected class:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information (including family medical history)

For more information, please see the following article published by Ohio University

These characteristics are considered immutable aspects of a person’s identity. This means they are inherent and unchangeable traits that form part of who people are.

Federal laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Americans with Disabilities Act are significant in delineating these protected classes. These laws prohibit discrimination and actively promote equal opportunities for all individuals.

By recognizing and protecting these specific characteristics, we work towards eliminating barriers and fostering an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. Laying a foundation for equal treatment helps us build a more just and equitable society.

Common Forms of Discrimination Against Protected Classes

Discrimination against protected classes can take many forms in the workplace. These actions can significantly impact the lives of employees and applicants, making it essential for us to recognize and address them promptly.

Discriminatory Hiring Practices

One common form of discrimination against protected classes occurs through discriminatory hiring practices. This can involve refusing to hire someone based on their race, gender, age, or disability. It’s important to be aware that illegal hiring practices are a serious violation of employment laws.


Harassment at work can include offensive comments, jokes, or actions targeted at an individual because of their protected characteristics. This behavior is prohibited under several employment laws. More information is available on the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website under “harassment.”

Unequal Pay

Another issue is unequal pay, where protected-class individuals receive lower wages than their counterparts for doing the same job. This form of discrimination undermines equality and fairness in the workplace. For example, in 2023, the Center for American Progress revealed that “women have cumulatively lost $61 trillion in wages since 1967.” 

Nepotism and Favoritism

Nepotism and favoritism can also be considered discriminatory when employers unfairly benefit certain individuals over others because of personal relationships rather than merit. If you are facing such issues, it may be possible to sue for nepotism in the workplace. More information on how nepotism affects organizational climate is available in the following study published by the National Library of Medicine

Wrongful Termination

This occurs when an employee is fired based on discriminatory reasons rather than performance or behavior. This is a serious violation of employment rights and can cause significant harm to the affected individual.

By understanding these forms of discrimination, we can take action to create a fair and inclusive workplace for everyone.

Federal Laws Defining Protected Classes

As mentioned above, federal laws protect certain groups from discrimination. These groups are known as “protected classes.” Key federal laws define these classes and set standards for preventing discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This is a landmark law. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII of this act is crucial in employment law, as it prevents workplace discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” For more details, see the Civil Rights Act.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)

This law protects workers 40 and older and makes it illegal to discriminate against older employees in hiring, during promotions, or any other employment terms. For more information, refer to the ADEA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

This other act safeguards individuals with disabilities. It mandates reasonable accommodations in workplaces so everyone has equal opportunities. This act emphasizes the need for accessibility and fairness in employment. More information is available on ADA’s website

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

GINA addresses discrimination based on genetic information. This covers situations where employers or insurers might use genetic data unfairly. Learn more about it on GINA’s website.

California State Laws Expanding Protected Classes

As noted, federal laws cover certain protected classes, such as race, color, and national origin. However, California has broadened these categories significantly. This expansion ensures that more people receive protection against discrimination in various settings, especially employment.

One key example is the protection for medical conditions, which includes genetic characteristics and cancer history. California also safeguards military or veteran status.

Furthermore, the state acknowledges gender identity and gender expression, offering specific protections beyond federal regulations. California laws also cover marital status and sexual orientation.

California also added to its protected classes, offering protection to individuals who are 40 and over. 

The full list of California’s protected classes is available on the California State Senate website

Moreover, employers in California are required to comply with both federal and state regulations. This means adhering to the broader list of protected classes as defined by state law. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences and actions to eliminate discrimination, per California State Senate guidelines. It’s crucial for employers to review both sets of regulations regularly to maintain compliance and support a diverse workforce.

How to Identify and Address Discrimination

Recognizing signs of discrimination in the workplace is crucial for maintaining a fair and respectful environment. It’s in the employee’s best interest to be aware of the telltale signs so that the issue can be addressed promptly and effectively. 

Here’s a quick overview of what you can do to identify and address discrimination in your workplace: 

Signs of Discrimination

  1. Unequal treatment: Differences in how people are treated based on race, gender, age, etc.
  2. Harassment: Unwanted, hostile behavior directed at someone due to their membership in a protected class.
  3. Unjust policies: Company practices that disadvantage certain groups.
  4. Lack of diversity: A noticeable absence of diversity in hiring or promotion practices.

Steps to Take if Discriminated Against

  1. Document the incidents:
    • Keep a record of dates, times, locations, and descriptions of discriminatory acts.
    • Store emails, messages, and other communication that provide evidence.
    • Gather witnesses who can support your claims.
  2. Report internally:
    • Notify your supervisor or HR department about the discrimination.
    • Follow company procedures for reporting such issues.
    • Request a formal investigation to address your concerns.
  3. Contact an employment lawyer:
    • Seek legal advice if internal reporting does not resolve the issue.
    • Find a lawyer with experience working on employment discrimination cases to discuss your options.
    • Consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Understanding and addressing discrimination ensures a safe and equitable workplace for everyone. The EEOC’s website offers more resources under “Employee and Job Applications,” including how to file a charge of discrimination, mediation, and a lawsuit. 

Are You Facing Workplace Discrimination? Let Waltman Employment Law Fight for You

Workplace discrimination can be a challenging experience. It’s crucial to know your rights and options as a member of a protected class. Consulting with legal professionals is essential if you believe you are facing discrimination.

At Waltman Employment Law, we have experience supporting individuals who face employment discrimination, as detailed in our website under “practice areas.” 

Our experienced team is here to help you understand your rights and pursue justice; we encourage you to visit our website and scroll down to our testimonial section.

Our attorneys are well-versed in employment laws and can provide insightful advice and representation. Additionally, we understand the emotional toll discrimination can take and are committed to supporting our clients. So, contact us for a free consultation if you need help with any employment discrimination issues. We are here to stand by your side and advocate for your rights. Remember, your fight is our fight.