What is discrimination?

One of the basic principles of human rights is the equality of all people in the eyes of law. It means that although we are different, we should be treated equally by the law and public institutions, no matter what gender, religion, skin color or national origin we are. This principle is recognized as the basis of a fair legal order and is reflected in almost all constitutions of modern democratic countries.

Although everyone has felt like they were treated unfairly at some point in their life, it does not always mean that they were a victim of discrimination at the time. The actions or omissions that can be considered discriminatory, and the situations where those who experience them will be protected or compensated, are defined by legal provisions.

How is discrimination determined and proved?

Discrimination is not a uniform concept. It is diverse in terms of its impact, form, and power. Discriminatory behavior can be expressed in various ways, ranging from a single word or gesture, through social media posts, to public riots and violence. Discrimination can affect anyone -- individuals, social groups, enterprises, offices, industries, and even whole economies.

In civil law, discrimination is regarded as the unfair or unequal treatment of a person, or a group of people, based on their characteristics, such as ethnicity, disability, race, or gender. However, not all types of discrimination violate federal or state laws. For example, an employer can lawfully discriminate against a person who does not meet the job requirements, by choosing not to hire them. However, an employer cannot discriminate against a candidate based on their age, gender, race, or other characteristics; it would be a case of unlawful discrimination.

In some cases, two types of evidence will be needed to prove that one is a victim of discrimination. The first type is known as direct evidence and can be obtained, for example, through an eye witness’s testimony. The second type, circumstantial evidence, is extracted from direct observation of the environment where the discrimination has occurred.

What protects people from discrimination?

There are certain federal laws that protect people from unfair or unequal treatment. They are known as the Federal Antidiscrimination Laws, and they prohibit discrimination in various areas of life, such as labor and housing. Although discrimination can take place anywhere and anyone can be the victim, the laws apply to individuals who classify as members of the “protected group.” This term refers to people who possess inherent characteristics, like disability or national origin, that make them more likely to be exposed to discrimination. Therefore, those who, for example, have a criminal record which decreases their employment opportunities, are not subject to protection by the Federal Antidiscrimination Laws.

To summarize, discrimination is the unequal treatment of a person or group of people. It can occur in various forms, such as limitation of rights or oppression. It is caused by non-objective causes, depending mainly on the person exercising power or control over the discriminated individuals. The main criteria for discrimination include characteristics such as gender, age, religion, origin, sexual orientation, political beliefs, but also many others. Discrimination is prohibited by federal and state laws.

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