Federal and state laws protect you from discrimination in the workplace, including unlawful or “wrongful” termination, based on your membership in certain categories, known as protected classes. Protected classes differ under different laws.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the major federal law governing workplace discrimination. Under Title VII, it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace because of their age. The ADEA protects people who are 40 or older.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination in the workplace against a person with a disability.
Some state and local laws also protect against workplace discrimination based on gender identity, immigration status, language, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, or genetic information.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), for example, makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, nationality, ancestry, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, sex, liability for military service, hereditary cellular or blood trait, or genetic information.
Protections for workers under the NJLAD differ from those under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in a few important ways:
- The NJLAD protects workers who are 18 years or older, whereas the ADEA only protects workers older than 40;
- The NJLAD protects against workplace discrimination based on the employee being “too young” as well as “too old;”
- Under the NJLAD, workers 70 or older cannot bring an age discrimination claim for failure to hire or promote, but may bring an age discrimination claim for other forms of discrimination;
- Under the NJLAD, all workers who prevail in age discrimination cases may recover compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), whereas the ADEA does not provide for these damages.
The NJLAD law also provides broader protection for employees with disabilities than the federal ADA the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it does not require that the employee have a substantial limitation of a major life activity.