What is a Protected Class?

Certain laws are meant to protect people against employment discrimination. When an employment discrimination case goes before the court, however, the court asks if the plaintiff was a member of a “protected class.” If they are not, they can have a much harder time winning their case. But what is a protected class, and why does it matter?

Defining a Protected Class

    The term “protected class” comes up whenever someone alleges they have been the victim of discrimination, including employment discrimination. It refers to any group of people that has traditionally been the victim of discrimination, such as African-Americans or women. In simple terms, if you are a member of a protected class, you are going to have an easier time proving you were the victim of discrimination.

What Defines Who is a Protected Class?

The primary method of determining whether you are a member of a protected class is whether there have been previous successful discrimination cases against people of the same group you belong to. This is because the court primarily defines who is “traditionally” discriminated against by what has been said in previous cases. However, you can also look to existing anti-discrimination legislation to determine if you might fall under a protected class.

For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects against discrimination because of race, sex, color, creed and national origin. Another example is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides similar protections for people with disabilities. Various other types of people are also protected under certain state laws, such as the New York Human Rights Law.

Why is This Relevant?

The reason this is important has to do with something known as the “standard of review.” A standard of review refers to how deeply the court will look to determine if a particular set of actions or policies was justified. This is true whether you are talking about a government policy or the actions of a private employer.

If you are not a member of a protected class, your employer only needs to demonstrate their actions had a rational basis. In other words, they only need to show there was some reason for their actions based on some piece of factual information. This is a very low bar for them to meet, and it can be very difficult to prove discrimination as a result.

If you are a member of a protected class, however, you can allege either discriminatory harassment or disparate impact. Discriminatory harassment requires proving there was an intentional effort to discriminate against members of your protected class. Disparate impact requires proving only that a certain policy resulted in unequal effects for different classes of people.

Pursuing Different Types of Discrimination

The choice of whether to pursue discriminatory harassment or disparate impact is often a tactical one. On the one hand, discriminatory harassment can allow you to recover greater damages from your employer from a lawsuit. On the other hand, it is much harder to prove than disparate impact, which only requires showing there was harm without needing to show intentional harm. However, the only way to be certain what might be best for you is to consult an employment law attorney to discuss your possible actions.

If you have gotten into a legal dispute with your employer, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced New York employment lawyer who can protect your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 39 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. To schedule an appointment with New York City employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000.

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