updated 12/8/2005 5:00:39 PM ET 2005-12-08T22:00:39

Nearly one out of every six U.S. employees say they were discriminated at work in the last year, with women more than twice as likely as men to claim bias over hiring and pay, according to a new poll.

The poll released Thursday by the Gallup Organization found that middle-aged women and minorities were more likely to report being victims. Out of the part-time and full-time workers interviewed by telephone, women were more than twice as likely to claim discrimination (22 percent) as men (9 percent).

Among racial groups, Asians and blacks led the field (31 percent and 26 percent, respectively) in saying they were treated unfairly, followed by Hispanics (18 percent) and then whites (12 percent).

Broken down by age, 18 percent of employees alleging discrimination were age 40-49, followed by 17 percent for those age 50-59, and 15 percent for workers age 30-39. Complaints by those age 60 and over, as well younger workers age 18-29, were divided evenly at 11 percent.

“These data make it pretty clear that it makes good business sense to have operable diversity efforts in organizations,” said Max Larsen, the Gallup Organization’s government division partner. He added that happy employees reduce turnover and promote the company through word-of-mouth praise.

Workplace bias suits have been in the forefront in the past year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. currently is fighting the nation’s largest employment lawsuit, which alleges that 1.6 million current and former women employees earned less than men and were bypassed for promotions.

The U.S. Supreme Court also has shown interest, agreeing earlier this week to consider how much authority employers have in transferring workers who claim discrimination. Last term, justices expanded the scope of the Title IX gender equity law and loosened standards in alleging age bias.

A call for diversity
The Gallup poll determined that the actual rate of illegal discrimination is probably between 9 percent and 15 percent, since many of the complaints alleged unfairness involving favoritism, sexual orientation and education that are not generally covered by federal law.

Still, the number reported reflects a need by employers to promote diversity, sponsors said, noting that employees who worked in companies rating high in that area reported the greatest overall satisfaction and loyalty.

“This insight into the perceptions of discrimination by a sampling of the work force will aid us as we continue our emphasis on proactive prevention, outreach and law enforcement,” added Cari M. Dominguez, chair of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Among other findings:

  • Most complaints involved gender bias (26 percent), followed by race (23 percent), age (17 percent), favoritism (12 percent) and disability (9 percent).
  • Most allegations centered on promotion decisions (33 percent), followed by pay (29 percent), hiring (13 percent), harassment (11 percent), work conditions (3 percent) and assignments (2 percent).

The poll was based on telephone interviews with 1,252 adults from March 7, 2005, to May 8, 2005. It was conducted in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the EEOC.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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