Information About Employment Discrimination Law

Employment Discrimination Based on Race, National Origin, Gender, and Religion

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer with fifteen or more employees from discriminating on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion. Under Title VII, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate in the "terms or conditions of employment" on the basis of a person’s race, national origin, gender, or religion. "Terms or conditions of employment" pertains to almost all aspects of a person's job: interviewing, hiring, assignments, promotion, training, pay, title, hours, vacation, benefits, retirement plans, and other terms of employment.

Discriminatory practices prohibited under these laws also include:

-harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin

-retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices

-employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, religion, or ethnic group

-denying employment opportunities to women on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions

-denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, or national origin. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.

-adopting a policy or practice that has a conflicting impact on a protected class, such as by adopting hiring criteria that tend to screen out women or minority group members, or by instituting a required test for promotion on which a particular class tends to score poorly. Such a policy or test, like a specific policy that only men or women can have certain jobs, is legal only if it can be deemed a "bona fide occupational qualification." An example is a strength test that tends to screen out women, but is a necessary test for fire fighters who must be able to carry victims down tall ladders.

Title VII does not just bar discrimination against women and minority group members, but also bars discrimination against male or white employees or applicants. Such discrimination is popularly known as "reverse discrimination," and may be caused, for example, by an over-ambitious affirmative action program.

Racial Discrimination

Race is generally defined as a person's ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Everyone is some race or color. This means that it is illegal to discriminate against anyone, if the basis of the discrimination is his or her race or color.

Employment race discrimination in the workplace based on association with people of a particular race is also prohibited. For example, it is illegal for an employer to fire a white employee because she has black friends, or is dating a black man, whether or not the employer is prejudiced against whites.

National Origin Discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to assure that hired employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. However, the IRCA bans any employer with more than three employees from discriminating against a U.S. citizen, or an "intended citizen" (such as one who may work legally but is not yet a citizen) on the basis of his or her national origin.

For example, if an employer implements a rule that requires employees to speak only English on the job, this action may be in violation of Title VII, unless the employer can show that the requirement is necessary for conducting business. If the employer strongly feels the rule is necessary, employees must be informed that English is required and also the consequences for breaking the rule.

Gender Discrimination

The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires any employer to provide equal pay to men and women who perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions, unless the difference in pay is caused by differences in seniority, merit or some other factor that is not based upon sex.

It is important to note that it is illegal for employers to reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men and women. Also, a violation of the EPA may occur when a different wage was or now is paid to a person who worked in the same job before or after an employee of the opposite sex.

It is also illegal to make employment decisions based on stereotypes regarding gender or because of gender role beliefs. For example, in one case an employer was held to have violated the Federal Title VIII laws when it refused to promote and offer training to a female employee based in part on evaluation comments describing her as "snippy", while men were praised as "aggressive". The particular woman in this case was treated differently solely because of a stereotype that comes along with assertive women.

Discrimination based on pregnancy is also illegal under the Federal Title VII laws. This includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Even discrimination based on the "potential" for pregnancy is illegal. For example, it is illegal for a manufacturing company to disallow women to work certain jobs because if they were pregnant there could be harm to the unborn child. Additionally, it is unlawful for an employer to ask a prospective employee whether or not she is or intends to become pregnant.

Sexual Harassment is specifically prohibited by Title VII and includes actions ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that foster a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment. (The "hostile environment" standard also applies to harassment in the workplace based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability.)

Religious Discrimination

According to Federal law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for a person's religious beliefs or practices in the workplace, unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer. Undue hardship is present when the accommodation is extremely costly or when accommodating the religious beliefs of one employee is unfair to other employees who do not have the same beliefs. Generally, religious accommodations do not create an undue hardship on the employer.

Be aware that it is inappropriate and in some instances illegal for your employer to ask about the specifics of your religious beliefs, your availability for future holidays based on religion, or to require a dress code that violates a person's religious beliefs or practices.