What is Employment Discrimination Law?

Employment discrimination law refers to federal and state laws that prohibit employers from treating workers differently based on specific attributes unrelated to job performance, such as gender or race. Disparate treatment of workers based on such attributes may violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

No federal rules prevent people from being fired for different characteristics. Under federal law, individuals are protected against discrimination based on race or skin color, national origin, genetic information (such as family medical history), gender or pregnancy, religion, disability, and age. In some cases, it is also illegal for employers to discriminate based on marital status, political affiliation, and sexual orientation.

A protected classification is any class or category of people identified by federal or state law to receive protection against discrimination in employment. Federally protected classes are outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (in the U.S.), the Ontario Human Rights Code (in Canada), and other anti-discrimination laws. Examples include race, religion, nationality, sex, and disability.

Employers cannot discriminate when imposing work conditions or privileges or determining pay, bonus, or time off. Workplace discrimination can also be harassment or retaliation for reporting improprieties or exercising a legal right.

Employers are required by federal law to post notices describing specific anti-discrimination policies and also to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities manual. This should include information concerning the internal complaint process for discrimination claims and contact points for further information.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the most critical set of anti-discrimination laws for American workers. Although the Civil Rights Act originally covered discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," subsequent amendments have been added (see next slide). Title VII applies to businesses with 15 or more employees and other public and private entities. It is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The landmark legislation of the 1960s led to various protections for employees. Most notably, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also known as the Civil Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act (CRA), prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

This act and today created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) use legal tools to enforce its provisions. Title VII also created important anti-retaliation protections for employees and job seekers, requiring that anyone treated unlawfully under the statute would have a cause of action against the employer.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), prohibits discrimination in housing sales and rentals based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

Another significant law passed in the 1960s is the Equal Pay Act (EPA), passed in 1963 and amended in 1964, prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination. The act includes requirements that different working conditions must justify wage differentials, skills, effort, and responsibility and mandates that an employer shall not take what is called an "adverse" employment action against an employee who questions an employer's wage practices (i.e., dares to stand up for herself and demand better).

If you're filing an employment claim, it's crucial to understand the definitions of discrimination.

With various state and federal laws and regulations on the subject, bringing an employment discrimination claim can become completely overwhelming, especially for those not represented by an attorney. In almost all instances, the process is initiated by filing a complaint with the EEOC. Virtually all claims must be brought to the attention of the EEOC before the employee will be permitted to file a lawsuit.

If Employment Discrimination is the issue, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires claims to be filed 180 days from the earliest date the employee was notified of discriminatory conduct. However, if the incident occurred in a state that has enacted laws dealing with the same issue, the EEOC deadline is extended to 300 days. Either way, timeliness is essential. The EEOC calculates filing deadlines based on the earliest date the employee was notified of the employer's conduct. This can make a difference since employers often give notice of termination or other action weeks in advance.

In some cases, before the EEOC can file a lawsuit, it must attempt to resolve the charge. The agency will seek voluntary mediation to settle the matter without litigation. The parties may then pursue their options to resolve the dispute.

The outcome of an EEOC investigation typically depends on a few factors. If the investigation finds that discrimination occurred, then the EEOC will investigate further, contact the company with its findings, and work with both parties to attempt a voluntary settlement.

However, if there is no discrimination, the EEOC will issue a right to sue letter to an employee, allowing them to file a suit if they wish.