When Favoritism is Discrimination in Disguise
In certain circumstances, playing favorites might be unlawful
It can be frustrating to work for someone who plays favorites.
You know you’re not going to be assigned to that key account because you don’t play in the boss’s Thursday night poker game. You would love to take that new training course, but those opportunities generally only go to people your manager went to college with.
Is Favoritism a Form of Discrimination?
Taken at face value, favoritism is not unlawful at work. However, favoritism can also be a mask for other discrimination motives that are unlawful. Favoritism may sometimes cross the line into unlawful territory if it is used as an excuse for discrimination or harassment.
Let’s take a look at when favoritism violates the law.
When playing favorites is fine
Favoritism, like nepotism, is not generally unlawful.
That means your boss is perfectly entitled to hire, promote, or offer additional perks to people simply because he or she likes them – even if those people are less qualified than other employees. So your manager is not violating the law by favoring his or her golfing buddies, family members, or even someone he or she has a crush on, as long as those actions are motivated by neutral reasons.
However, favoritism becomes unlawful when it’s driven by preference for a specific race, national origin, age, gender, religion, or other protected category.
- You’re continually passed over for promotions that you’re qualified for, while employees who are members of the boss’s church move up the corporate ladder.
- Younger employees seem to land all the high-profile accounts because the boss wants to promote the image of a youthful company.
- A manager only assigns men to projects that require travel to exotic locations.
- All the supervisor positions are staffed by people of a certain national origin.
In other scenarios related to favoritism, a manager may leverage his or her position as a means to act inappropriately.
For example, a supervisor may give more favorable schedules to female staffers who flirt with him. In those cases, some female staffers may put up with unwanted advances from the boss simply to get ahead … while the woman who refuses to do so finds her career floundering.
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Federal law offers protection from discrimination for a wide range of protected categories. If you believe that you’ve been unlawfully discriminated against for any reason, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.