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Understanding What Discrimination Really Is: 3 Ways to Tell for Sure

People take offense to the words, actions, and ideas of others on a regular basis, but just because you feel personally offended doesn't always mean that discrimination has taken place. In the US, it is illegal for people to be discriminated against for a number of reasons, but not all discriminatory acts are necessarily illegal. To find out if you have been illegally discriminated against, use these three considerations to help determine how your personal situation measures up to legal precedents.

1. Determining Whether You're Part of a Protected Class - In order to prove accusations of discrimination, you have to first be able to certify that you are a part of a protected class. Federal law mandates that protected classes consist of people that share commonalities, according to Thomas Reuters. Sometimes people who have experienced discrimination band together, hire the same discrimination attorney, and file class-action suits in order to better substantiate their claims.

2. Public Versus Private Venues - Anti-discrimination laws shield protected classes from being mistreated in the workplace, in the court system, in the housing market, or even by businesses. While federal anti-discrimination laws provide protected classes with a high degree of protection, these laws are not all encompassing. Sometimes things that are said and done in a private venue, whether discriminatory in nature or not, cannot be litigated due to the factors surrounding the location or parties of interest.

For example, if two friends met for lunch at a private residence and later one of the parties made discriminatory remarks in front of the other, these remarks could be considered offensive, but there would not be sufficient reason to bring a legal action based on anti-discrimination. If the scenario laid out above took place between two co-workers, a police officer and a civilian, or between a teacher and a student, the end result would likely be very different.

3. Freedom-of-Speech Considerations - Many anti-discrimination cases highlight the emotional pain and distress that come as a result of offensive language used toward the plaintiff. On the other hand, the US Constitution fervently protects the right to freedom of speech, even if it is offensive in nature in many cases. Hearing someone say something that you don't like and offends you while you are walking down the street is generally not seen as discriminatory, though the words may still be prosecuted due to obscenity laws in certain jurisdictions. 

In cases, freedom of speech trumps anti-discriminatory protections where it is not an employer, business owner, or public servant who is making remarks that a protected class would be offended by. In order to know for certain whether you have been legally discriminated against, speaking to a discrimination attorney, such as one from the Law Offices of Jeffrey Needle, is highly recommended.