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IDear Workforce-I What's Disparate Impact vs. Disparate Treatment

In one case, the discrimination was merely a result of policies that seemed fair.
May 3, 2000
Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Dear Workforce

Dear Workforce:

What is the easiest way to understand the difference between Disparate Impact and Disparate Treatment?
-- Karin Jensen-Glick, PHR, HR Development, Colorado

A Dear Karin:

As with any legal questions, keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer, thank goodness. So this is not legal advice.

Disparate treatment is when you treat someone (or a group of people) unfairly in an employment decision because of their race, gender, skin color, religion, or other unlawful reasons. If you have a policy of only hiring male waiters for your fancy restaurant, that could perhaps be considered disparate treatment.

Disparate impact is when you have an employment practice that sounds fair and non-discriminatory, but in reality it weeds out certain groups. If you say "no one with a beard can work here," it sounds fair. But far, far more African-Americans than whites have a skin condition which makes it next to impossible to shave. The end result of your no-beard policy may be the exclusion of a certain group; disparate impact.

SOURCE: Todd Raphael, online editor for Workforce, April 9, 2000

E-mail your Dear Workforce questions to Online Editor Todd Raphael at, along with your name, title, organization and location. Unless you state otherwise, your identifying info may be used on and in Workforce magazine. We can't guarantee we'll be able to answer every question.


 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

If you have any questions or concerns about, please email or call 312-676-9900.

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