Employment Discrimination laws seek to prevent discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age by employers. There is also a growing body of law preventing or occasionally justifying employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, compensation, and various types of harassment.
Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, compensation, and various types of harassment. The main body of employment discrimination laws is composed of federal and state statutes.
The United States Constitution and some state constitutions provide additional protection where the employer is a governmental body or the government has taken significant steps to foster the discriminatory practice of the employer.
What Are the Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination?
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
- the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
- the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
- Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments;
- Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government; and
- the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all of these laws. EEOC also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, providing basic protection to ensure fairness in the workplace for Americans who are currently denied equal protection under the law. ENDA does not create “special rights.” The bill explicitly prohibits preferential treatment and quotas. In addition, it exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military, and does not require benefits to the same sex partners of employees.
There is widespread bipartisan support for ENDA and with your help we can urge Congress to pass this important piece of civil rights legislation. On the right-hand side of this page, you will find links to ENDA’s background and important information on the bill.
Racial discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than someone else in a similar situation because of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. This is direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination can also occur when the operation of a particular rule or policy disadvantages more people of a particular race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin than other people.
Ethnic discrimination in this country is closely related to historical patterns of immigration and migration, particularly in the flow of newcomers to northern cities. Immigrants to the cities have, as groups, tended to occupy the lowest social and economic level.
During the last thirty years efforts to combat racial discrimination have figured prominently in our history. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s won the passage of important legislation; decisions of the Supreme Court and regulations of federal agencies have contributed greatly to fighting discrimination, yet it is obvious that a great deal more needs to be done.
It is illegal under both Federal and State Law to discriminate in the “terms or conditions of employment” on the Basis of a person’s race or color.
“Terms or conditions of employment” means just about anything relating to someone’s job: their position, pay, title, hours, vacations, most everything is a term or condition of employment. Whether or not a person is hired is also considered a term or condition of employment.
Employment discrimination based on association with people of a particular race is also prohibited. For instance, if an employer fired a white employee because she had black friends, or was dating a black man, the white woman would have a discrimination suit, whether or not the employer is prejudiced against whites.
It is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of “color”. In one case, an employer hired a “light-complexioned” black applicant with “Caucasian features” over another black applicant who had a “dark complexion” and “Negroid features”. This was also against the law, even though in a strict sense one race wasn’t being preferred over another.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967(ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment — including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment — including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.
The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and labor organizations, as well as to the federal government. ADEA protections include:
- Apprenticeship Programs – It is generally unlawful for apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs, to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age. Age limitations in apprenticeship programs are valid only if they fall within certain specific exceptions under the ADEA or if the EEOC grants a specific exemption.
- Job Notices and Advertisements – The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations, or specifications in job notices or advertisements. A job notice or advertisement may specify an age limit only in the rare circumstances where age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business.
- Pre-Employment Inquiries – The ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth. However, because such inquiries may deter older workers from applying for employment or may otherwise indicate possible intent to discriminate based on age, requests for age information will be closely scrutinized to make sure that the inquiry was made for a lawful purpose, rather than for a purpose prohibited by the ADEA.
- Benefits – The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to specifically prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees. Congress recognized that the cost of providing certain benefits to older workers is greater than the cost of providing those same benefits to younger workers, and that those greater costs would create a disincentive to hire older workers. Therefore, in limited circumstances, an employer may be permitted to reduce benefits based on age, as long as the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers. Employers are permitted to coordinate retiree health benefit plans with eligibility for Medicare or a comparable state-sponsored health benefit.
- Waivers of ADEA Rights – An employer may ask an employee to waive his/her rights or claims under the ADEA either in the settlement of an ADEA administrative or court claim or in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program. However, the ADEA, as amended by OWBPA, sets out specific minimum standards that must be met in order for a waiver to be considered knowing and voluntary and, therefore, valid. Among other requirements, a valid ADEA waiver must:
- be in writing and be understandable;
- specifically refer to ADEA rights or claims;
- not waive rights or claims that may arise in the future;
- be in exchange for valuable consideration;
- advise the individual in writing to consult an attorney before signing the waiver;
- provide the individual at least 21 days to consider the agreement and at least seven days to revoke the agreement after signing it.
If an employer requests an ADEA waiver in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program, the minimum requirements for a valid waiver are more extensive.
Disability discrimination is the process of making decisions affecting an employee based wholly, or partly, upon the real or perceived disability of the employee, in those cases where the employee is a “qualified” individual under the ADA. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
Sex Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less fairly than another person because of their sex or marital status or because they are pregnant.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.
Under Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:
» hiring and firing;
» compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
» transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
» job advertisements;
» use of company facilities;
» training and apprenticeship programs;
» fringe benefits;
» pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
» other terms and conditions of employment.
Discriminatory practices under these laws also include:
Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age;
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, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities;
Denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.
Employers are required to post notices to all employees advising them of their rights under the laws EEOC enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.