What to do if you feel you have suffered discrimination

Although it may seem difficult, the very first step in dealing with discrimination or harassment in the workplace is to talk to your employer or supervisor. Make sure your supervisor knows what is happening, assuming that he or she is not the perpetrator. This can take the form of a private meeting or in a note or memorandum. Additionally, you should approach your company's human resources manager and inform him or her of the improper conduct. Unfortunately, many discriminatory acts go unrecognized and unpunished because the victim is not fully informing the employer that the conduct is occurring.

Increasingly many employers are adopting written personnel policies which contain anti-discrimination policies. Take some time to review your company's policies, which are typically contained in employee handbooks. Does it set out to whom you should report discrimination? Does it set forth how you should report incidents of discrimination? Make sure you keep a personal copy of the handbook.

After reporting what you feel is discriminatory conduct, you should be as diligent as possible in following up on your employer's investigation. Make sure your employer understands that you take the matter seriously. Has the employer started an investigation? Have they interviewed witnesses? Have they spoken directly with the alleged discriminator? Has the employer made a written report setting out the alleged discriminatory acts? A good investigation will conclude with a written report outlining the important facts, witnesses interviewed, and corrective action taken.

To assist you in properly documenting the discrimination or harassment, it's a good idea to keep a diary, notebook, or other written notes tracking when specific incidents occurred. You may want to note the date, time, place, any witnesses, and as many details of what improper conduct occurred. If the discrimination involves improper pictures, written documents, or objects, you should keep the item even though you may find the item reprehensible.

If you feel your employer is not taking the matter seriously or has not followed up with an investigation, you should consider contacting a government agency responsible for investigating employment discrimination. The Department of Fair Employment & Housing ("DFEH") and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") have responsibility for investigating and enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Ultimately you may need to consult with and possibly retain an attorney. The attorney will be able to assist you determining the strength of your case and in taking the necessary legal steps towards helping resolve your problem. Most importantly, an attorney will be your representative--an effective advocate to protect your rights.

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