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Have I experienced discrimination?

Discrimination is often a powerful emotional experience, and trying to assess subjectively whether a particular behaviour is in fact illegal can be quite challenging. Identifying illegal discrimination is easier when one knows which criteria are significant for the judicial evaluation of discrimination. These criteria should also be considered before making a complaint to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.

Different treatment

Fundamental to the evaluation of discrimination is the identification of different treatment. It is easier to identify this in a face-to-face customer encounter than for instance in the processing of a housing application where different treatment is suspected. Different treatment can readily be identified in customer service situations where certain individuals are denied a service while others are welcome as customers in a similar situation.

By contrast, the status of various housing applicants is not immediately obvious, so any suspicion of different treatment in housing applications will only emerge gradually, often only after a prolonged and eventually fruitless application process. Identifying different treatment in such a case will require, for instance, that the applicant make an inquiry at the municipal housing office to find out whether other housing applicants have been given rental apartments while the applicant’s application has been pending, and if so, on what grounds.

Prohibited basis for discrimination

Treating individuals differently is not in itself prohibited. It is only prohibited when the grounds for such treatment are personal characteristics defined by law as prohibited grounds for discrimination. However, the fact that an individual experiencing different treatment considers himself/herself to be a member of a group embodying specific prohibited grounds for discrimination does not in itself mean that the different treatment is automatically attributable to prohibited grounds for discrimination.

For an incident of different treatment to qualify as discrimination, facts must be presented on the basis of which it may be reasonably assumed that the different treatment was actually and specifically motivated by prohibited grounds for discrimination. Such facts may include comments made by a customer assistant or housing official regarding previous behaviour by members of the customer’s reference group. In certain rare cases, an assumption of discrimination may arise because there is no other reason for the different treatment than the cause for discrimination attributable to personal characteristics of the individual’s reference group.

Investigating the matter

When you suspect you have experienced discrimination, consider the following questions:

  • Was I treated differently than other persons?
  • Was this treatment due to prohibited grounds for discrimination?
  • Why do you suspect that you were treated differently than others specifically because of your personal characteristics?

In unclear situations, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman may help you:

  • By discussing with you whether the incident in question is discrimination and how to proceed in the matter.
  • By requesting, when necessary, the party suspected of discrimination to provide clarification in the matter.
  • By offering guidance and advice and by making recommendations.
  • By promoting conciliation.
  • By bringing or helping the client to bring the case to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal or before a court of law.