Is Being Denied A Benefit Others Receive Enough To Prove Discrimination?

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

Hi Donna,
When other members of a department are given permission to take classes and the company reimburses their tuition in their entirety but the same does not happen for me. I'm a Middle Eastern Muslim man. I feel discriminated against when last year I requested to get tuition re-imbursement and department manager told me that the department does not have enough money to cover employees for their tuition when a week later the same department paid one woman's tuition and this year the department is paying tuition for another woman's complete education certification program. Does this fall under the category of discrimination possibly due to race or other form? I do have to point out that the department manager is also from the Middle East but he's a Jewish gentleman from Israel.

If you are treated differently than others under the same circumstances and the others getting better treatment are of a different religion, race, national origin, sex or other protected status than you, you may well have a discrimination claim.

In this case, it sounds like there are several possibilities:
  • Religious discrimination: Because you are being denied a benefit than others of a different religion, then you may be able to show religious discrimination. If you are the only Muslim in the department, then you may indeed be the victim of discrimination based on your religion. Has the boss made any comments or taken any other actions that indicate a bias against Muslims? If so, this could bolster your case (although you don't need discriminatory comments to prove discrimination).
  • Sex discrimination: You mentioned that the others getting tuition reimbursement are both female. This could be evidence of sex discrimination. Are other males having similar problems?
  • National origin discrimination: If you are the only person in the department from your Middle Eastern country, then you might be the victim of national origin discrimination. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that your boss could have some animosity toward your country of origin.

You said this happened last year, so it may be too late to take action. You might want to make a formal, written complaint internally to HR and explain why you think discrimination has occurred. If you can think of other instances of the same type of discrimination (other Muslims being singled out, other men not getting tuition reimbursement, comments about your country) then list them. List everyone who is being treated differently and explain that they are in a different category (religion, sex, or national origin) from you. Give them a chance to fix the situation. Ask them to reimburse you.

If you still have time, you could file with EEOC. Depending on your state, you have either 180 days or 300 days from the date you were denied tuition reimbursement to file. If you are too late and are still a student, then submit your request for reimbursement again. If denied again, this could restart the clock running on your deadline.

If you think you were the victim of illegal discrimination, then it's probably best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state about your rights.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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