Discrimination is Legal

Mostly.

People tend to get fired up about discrimination at work. But they all too often get fired up about the wrong kinds of discrimination. It’s perfectly legal for supervisors, human resources managers, and every other level of employee to discriminate based on legal factors. If your boss loves the Redskins, he can axe all of the office’s Cowboys fans. Is it discrimination? You bet. Is it illegal discrimination? Nope.

tall short

This principle went viral last year when an Iowa dentist fired his dental assistant because she was so attractive he feared he may cheat on his wife. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that it was just fine (legally, at least).

As a helpful reminder, AOL runs down a reminder list of seven perfectly legal (in most places) forms of discrimination based on a person’s appearance.

  1. Too attractive
  2. Too ugly
  3. Too fat
  4. Too thin
  5. Wrong Clothes
  6. Too short (and too tall)
  7. Too young

Unless one of these “appearances” is caused by a disability or is applied in a discriminatory way across genders or races, they are all legal reasons to hire, fire, demote, promote, or harass someone. So remember that discrimination itself is not illegal or even wrong in most cases–most people would probably discriminate in favor of a licensed doctor performing surgery on them–you just need to me mindful of the specific types of discrimination that are banned.

The implications can still be tricky. For example, if all your line workers wear a specific color shirt to collectively protest their low wages, that could be protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Or if you fire anyone who drives a blue car, knowing that only your three employees 65 and up drive them, you would have an age-discrimination claim on your hands. So it may not be a good idea to discriminate based on arbitrary factors, but there’s no reason to fear the word “discrimination” itself.

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