Employment discrimination law in the United States
Employment discrimination law in the United States derives from the common law, and is codified in numerous state and federal laws, particularly the Civil Rights Act 1964, as well as in the ordinances of counties and municipalities. These laws prohibit discrimination based on certain characteristics or protected categories. The United States Constitution also prohibits discrimination by federal and state governments against their public employees. Discrimination in the private sector is not directly constrained by the Constitution, but has become subject to a growing body of federal and state law. Federal law prohibits discrimination in a number of areas, including recruiting, hiring, job evaluations, promotion policies, training, compensation and disciplinary action. State laws often extend protection to additional categories or employers.
Under Federal law, employers generally cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of:
- National origin
- Disability (physical or mental, including HIV status)
- Age (for workers over 40)
- Military service or affiliation
- Bankruptcy or bad debts
- Genetic information
- Citizenship status (for citizens, permanent residents, temporary residents, refugees, and asylees)
- 1 Constitutional basis
- 2 Federal laws
- 3 LGBT employment discrimination
- 4 State law
- 5 Government employees
- 6 Exceptions
- 7 Unintentional discrimination
- 8 Enforcing entities
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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The United States Constitution does not directly address employment discrimination, but its prohibitions on discrimination by the federal government have been held to protect federal government employees.
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution limit the power of the federal and state governments to discriminate. The Fifth Amendment has an explicit requirement that the federal government not deprive individuals of "life, liberty, or property", without due process of the law. It also contains an implicit guarantee that the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly prohibits states from violating an individual's rights of due process and equal protection. In the employment context, these Constitutional provisions would limit the right of the state and federal governments to discriminate in their employment practices by treating employees, former employees, or job applicants unequally because of membership in a group (such as a race or sex). Due process protection requires that government employees have a fair procedural process before they are terminated if the termination is related to a "liberty" (such as the right to free speech) or property interest. As both Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses are passive, the clause that empowers Congress to pass anti-discrimination bills (so they are not unconstitutional under Tenth Amendment) is Section 5 of Fourteenth Amendment.
Employment discrimination or harassment in the private sector is not unconstitutional, because Federal and most State Constitutions do not expressly give their respective government the power to enact civil rights laws that apply to the private sector. The Federal government's authority to regulate a private business, including civil rights laws, stems from their power to regulate all commerce between the States. Some State Constitutions do expressly afford some protection from public and private employment discrimination, such as Article I of the California Constitution. However, most State Constitutions only address discriminatory treatment by the government, including a public employer.
Absent of a provision in a State Constitution, State civil rights laws that regulate the private sector are generally Constitutional under the "police powers" doctrine or the power of a State to enact laws designed to protect public health, safety and morals. All States must adhere to the Federal Civil Rights laws, but States may enact civil rights laws that offer additional employment protection.
For example, some State civil rights laws offer protection from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation, even though such forms of discrimination are not yet covered in federal civil rights laws.
Federal law governing employment discrimination has developed over time.
The Equal Pay Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1963. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers and unions from paying different wages based on sex. It does not prohibit other discriminatory practices in hiring. It provides that where workers perform equal work in jobs requiring "equal skill, effort, and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions," they should be provided equal pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act applies to employers engaged in some aspect of interstate commerce, or all of an employer's workers if the enterprise is engaged as a whole in a significant amount of interstate commerce.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in many more aspects of the employment relationship. It applies to most employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than 15 employees, labor organizations, and employment agencies. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based upon protected characteristics regarding terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Employment agencies may not discriminate when hiring or referring applicants, and labor organizations are also prohibited from basing membership or union classifications on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII in 1978, specifying that unlawful sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. A related statute, the Family and Medical Leave Act, sets requirements governing leave for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), enacted in 1968 and amended in 1978 and 1986, prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age. The prohibited practices are nearly identical to those outlined in Title VII, except that the ADEA protects workers in firms with 20 or more workers rather than 15 or more. An employee is protected from discrimination based on age if he or she is over 40. Since 1978, the ADEA has phased out and prohibited mandatory retirement, except for high-powered decision-making positions (that also provide large pensions). The ADEA contains explicit guidelines for benefit, pension and retirement plans.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability by the federal government, federal contractors with contracts of more than $10,000, and programs receiving federal financial assistance. It requires affirmative action as well as non-discrimination. Section 504 requires reasonable accommodation, and Section 508 requires that electronic and information technology be accessible to disabled employees.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers with more than three employees from discriminating against anyone (except an unauthorized immigrant) on the basis of national origin or citizenship status.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted to eliminate discriminatory barriers against qualified individuals with disabilities, individuals with a record of a disability, or individuals who are regarded as having a disability. It prohibits discrimination based on real or perceived physical or mental disabilities. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them because of a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment, unless the employer can show that undue hardship will result. There are strict limitations on when an employer can ask disability-related questions or require medical examinations, and all medical information must be treated as confidential. A disability is defined under the ADA as a mental or physical health condition that "substantially limits one or more major life activities."
The Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Acts, amended in 1993, ensure all persons equal rights under the law and outline the damages available to complainants in actions brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
The proposed US Equality Act of 2015 would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. As of April 2016[update], 28 US states do not explicitly include sexual orientation and 30 US states do not explicitly include gender identity in discrimination statutes.
LGBT employment discrimination
The regulation of LGBT employment discrimination in the United States varies by jurisdiction. Many states and localities prohibit bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation, as well as harassment on the basis of one's sexual orientation. Fewer extend those protections to cover sexual identity. Some cover government employees but do not extend their protections to the private sector. Protections at the national level are limited. There is no federal statute addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In March 2014, 195 lawmakers, 148 House members, and 47 Senators, all Democrats, signed an appeal to President Obama, encouraging him to enact protections for LGBT workers in an executive order. The Washington Blade noted that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has had strong bipartisan support, and even Democratic leadership has signed on.
According to Crosby Burns and Jeff Krehely: "Studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. Moreover, a staggering 90 percent of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job." Many people in the LGBT community have lost their job, including Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who claims that her boss told her that her presence may make other people feel uncomfortable.
Almost half of the United States has laws banning the discrimination of S.G.A., Heterogender, and Transgender people in both public and private workplaces. A few more states ban LGBT discrimination in only public workplaces. Some opponents of these laws believe that it would intrude on religious liberty, even though these laws are focused more on discriminatory actions, not beliefs. Courts have also identified that these laws do not infringe free speech or religious liberty.
State statutes also provide extensive protection from employment discrimination. Some laws extend similar protection as provided by the federal acts to employers who are not covered by those statutes. Other statutes provide protection to groups not covered by the federal acts. Some state laws provide greater protection to employees of the state or of state contractors.
The following table lists protected categories not included in federal law. Age is included as well, since federal law only covers workers over 40.
|State or territory||Sexual orientation||Gender identity||Marital status||Medical condition||Political affiliation||Military discharge status||Age||Familial status||Public assistance status||Use of lawful product|
|Alaska||||||||(unknown age range)||(parenthood)|
|California||||(gender identity or expression)||||||(40+)|
|Colorado||||(included under sexual orientation)||(unknown age range)||(any lawful activity)|
|Connecticut||||(gender identity or expression)||||(unknown age range)|
|District of Columbia||||(gender identity or expression)||(including domestic partnership)||||(18+)||"family responsibilities", parenthood under "marital status"|
|Florida||||? (in some cases under disability)||||(unknown age range)|
|Hawaii||||(gender identity or expression)||||(unknown age range)|
|Illinois||||(included under sexual orientation)||||("unfavorable discharge from military service")||(40+)|
|Indiana||||||(40-75)||use of tobacco|
|Iowa||||(included under sexual orientation)||(18+ or legal adult)|
|Louisiana||||||"sickle cell trait"||(40+)|
|Maine||||(included under sexual orientation)||(unknown age range)|
|Maryland||||(gender identity)||||(unknown age range)|
|Minnesota||||(included under sexual orientation)||||(over age of majority)|||
|Nevada||||(gender identity or expression)||(40+)|||
|New Hampshire||||||||(which ages?)|
|New Jersey||(affectional or sexual orientation)||(gender identify or expression)||(civil union status or domestic partnership status)||"atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait"||(18-70)|||
|New Mexico||||(included under sexual orientation)||("spousal affiliation")||"serious medical condition"||(unknown age range)|
|New York||||(Gender identity, gender dysphoria and the status of being transgender under New York state regulations; covered by both "sex" and "disability" status)||||"political activities"||(18+)|||
|North Carolina||||||(sickle cell or hemoglobin C trait)|||
|North Dakota||||||||(40+)||||("lawful activity")|
|Oregon||||(included under sexual orientation)||||(18+)||use of tobacco|
|Rhode Island||||(gender identity or expression)||(40+)|
|Washington||||(included under sexual orientation)||||Hepatitis C||(40+)|
|Guam||||(gender identity or expression)||(40+)|
|Puerto Rico||(employment only)||(employment only; gender identity)||(political affiliation or ideology)||(legal working age+)|
|US Virgin Islands||(unknown age range)|
|State or territory||Sexual orientation||Gender identity||Marital status||Medical condition||Political affiliation||Military discharge status||Age||Familial status||Public assistance status||Use of lawful product|
- District of Columbia - matriculation, personal appearance
- Michigan - height, weight
- Texas - Participation in emergency evacuation order
- Vermont - Place of birth
|This section requires expansion. (December 2009)|
Employees of federal and state governments have additional protections against employment discrimination.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 prohibits discrimination in federal employment on the basis of conduct that does not affect job performance. The Office of Personnel Management has interpreted this as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In June 2009, it was announced that the interpretation would be expanded to include gender identity.
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Bona fide occupational qualifications
Employers are generally allowed to consider characteristics that would otherwise be discriminatory if they are bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ). For example, a manufacturer of men's clothing may lawfully advertise for male models.
|This section requires expansion. (July 2009)|
Religious Employment Discrimination
“Religious discrimination is treating individuals differently in their employment because of their religion, their religious beliefs and practices, and/or their request for accommodation (a change in a workplace rule or policy) of their religious beliefs and practices. It also includes treating individuals differently in their employment because of their lack of religious belief or practice” (Workplace Fairness). According to The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are prohibited from refusing to hire an individual based on their religion- alike race, sex, age, and disability. If an employee believes that they have experienced religious discrimination, they should address this to the alleged offender. On the other hand, employees are protected by the law for reporting job discrimination and are able to file charges with the EEOC. Some locations in the U.S. now have clauses that ban discrimination against atheists. The courts and laws of the United States give certain exemptions in these laws to businesses or institutions that are religious or religiously-affiliated, however, to varying degrees in different locations, depending on the setting and the context; some of these have been upheld and others reversed over time.
The military has faced criticism for not allowing females in combat roles however has strives to push away from the past regulations for a more accepting military.
 In the article posted on the pbs website Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes about how black men were treated in the military during the 1940s. According to Gates during that time the whites gave the African Americans a chance to actually prove themselves as Americans by having them participate in the war. So if they fought honorably they will be considered Americans. Although on the national geographic website they stated that when black soldiers joined the Navy the only thing they were able to do was work as servants. They allowed them to participate but did not allow the black soldiers jobs other than mess attendants, stewards, and cooks. Even when the African Americans wanted to defend the country they lived in they were still denied the power to do so. The Navy treated them as though they were just servants of the war.
Employment practices that do not directly discriminate against a protected category may still be illegal if they produce a disparate impact on members of a protected group. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment practices that have a discriminatory impact, unless they are related to job performance.
The Act requires the elimination of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment that operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race, and, if, as here, an employment practice that operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, it is prohibited, notwithstanding the employer's lack of discriminatory intent.
Height and weight requirements have been identified by the EEOC as having a disparate impact on national origin minorities.
However, when defending against a disparate impact claim that alleges age discrimination, an employer does not need to demonstrate necessity; rather, it must simply show that its practice is reasonable.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interprets and enforces the Equal Pay Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title I and V of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Commission was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its enforcement provisions are contained in section 2000e-5 of Title 42, and its regulations and guidelines are contained in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 1614. Persons wishing to file suit under Title VII and/or the ADA must exhaust their administrative remedies by filing an administrative complaint with the EEOC prior to filing their lawsuit in court.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by federal contractors and subcontractors.
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, each agency has and enforces its own regulations that apply to its own programs and to any entities that receive financial assistance.
The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b, which prohibits discrimination based on citizenship status or national origin.
State Fair Employment Practices (FEP) offices take the role of the EEOC in administering state statutes.
- Employment Non-Discrimination Act
- LGBT employment discrimination in the United States
- Employment discrimination against persons with criminal records in the United States
- Racial wage gap in the United States
- Gender pay gap in the United States
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990, AS AMENDED
- Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994
- 11 U.S.C. § 525
- "Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008" (PDF). gpo.gov. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- 8 U.S.C. § 1324b
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- A Guide to Disability Rights Laws
- 30 USC Sec. 938
- Summary of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
- § 1981. Equal rights under the law
- § 1981a. Damages in cases of intentional discrimination in employment
- Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
- Tilcsik, A. (2011). Pride and prejudice: Employment discrimination against openly gay men in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 586–626.
- 195 LAWMAKERS, ALL DEMS, SIGN LETTER URGING OBAMA TO PROTECT LGBT WORKERS IN EXECUTIVE ORDER
- LGBT Executive Order Letter 3/18/14
- Nearly 200 lawmakers seek action from Obama for LGBT workers
- Burns, Crosby; Krehely, Jeff. "Gay and Transgender People Face High Rates of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment". Center for American Progress. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- "Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace". FindLaw. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Lowndes, Coleman; Maza, Carlos. "The Top Five Myths About LGBT Non-Discrimination Laws Debunked". Media Matters for America. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Alabama Non-Discrimination Law
- Code of Alabama 25-1-21
- Alaska Non-Discrimination Law
- AS 18.80.220. Unlawful Employment Practices; Exception.
- Arizona Non-Discrimination Law
- Arkansas Non-Discrimination Law
- Fair Employment and Housing Act Description
- Scope of Explicitly Transgender-Inclusive Discrimination Laws (PDF)
- Colorado Non-Discrimination Law
- Colorado Civil Rights Division 2008 Statutes
- Connecticut Non-Discrimination Law
- Chapter 814c Sec. 46a-60
- Delaware Non-Discrimination Law
- Delaware Code Title 19 Chapter 7 Subchapter 2
- D.C. Non-Discrimination Law
- District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977; Prohibited Acts of Discrimination
- District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977; Table of Contents, General Provisions
- Florida Non-Discrimination Law
- Florida Statutes Chapter 760.10
- Georgia Non-Discrimination Law
- Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act
- Hawaii Rev Statutes 378-2
- Hawaii Non-Discrimination Law
- Idaho Non-Discrimination Law
- Idaho Commission on Human Rights: Age Discrimination"
- Illinois Non-Discrimination Law
- Illinois Human Rights Act
- Indiana Non-Discrimination Law
- Indiana Code 22-9-2
- Indiana Code 22-5-4
- Iowa Non-Discrimination Law
- Iowa Code 216.6
- Kansas Non-Discrimination Law
- Kansas Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Kentucky Non-Discrimination Law
- Kentucky Revised Statutes 344.040
- Louisiana Non-Discrimination Law
- Louisiana Revised Statutes 23:352
- Louisiana Revised Statutes 23:312
- Louisiana Revised Statutes 23:311
- Maine Non-Discrimination Law
- Maine Revised Statutes, Title 5, Chapter 337
- Maryland Non-Discrimination Law
- Annotated Code of Maryland 49B.16
- Maryland Non-Discrimination Law
- M.G.L. 151B §4
- M.G.L 151B §1
- Michigan Non-Discrimination Law
- Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
- Minnesota Non-Discrimination Law Cite error: Invalid
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- Minnesota Statutes, section 363A.08
- Mississippi Non-Discrimination Law
- Missouri Non-Discrimination Law
- § 213.055 R.S.Mo.
- Montana Code Annotated 49-2-303
- Nebraska Non-Discrimination Law
- Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act
- Nevada Non-Discrimination Law
- NRS 613:310-350
- New Hampshire Non-Discrimination Law
- New Hampshire RSA 354-A:7
- New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-12)
- New Mexico Non-Discrimination Law
- New Mexico Code Section 28-1-7
- New York State Executive Law, Article 15, Section 296
- New York Labor Law Section 201-d - Discrimination Against The Engagement In Certain Activities
- North Carolina Non-Discrimination Law
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95‑28.1
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95‑28.2
- North Dakota Non-Discrimination Law
- North Dakota Human Rights Act
- Ohio Non-Discrimination Law
- Ohio Code § 4112
- Oklahoma Non-Discrimination Law
- Oklahoma Human Rights Commission
- Oregon Non-Discrimination Law
- Oregon Revised Statutes, Chapter 659A
- Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Law
- Laws Administered by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission
- Rhode Island Non-Discrimination Law
- Fair Employment Practices
- South Carolina Non-Discrimination Law
- South Carolina Human Affairs Law
- South Dakota Non-Discrimination Law
- Tennessee Non-Discrimination Law
- Tennessee Human Rights Act
- Texas Non-Discrimination Law
- Texas Labor Code Chapter 21
- "S.B. 296 Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments". Utah State Legislature. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
- Utah Code 34A-5-106
- Vermont Non-Discrimination Law
- Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act
- Virginia Non-Discrimination Law
- Virginia Human Rights Act
- Washington Non-Discrimination Law
- RCW 49.60.180 Unfair practices of employers.
- RCW 49.60.172 Unfair practices with respect to HIV or hepatitis C infection.
- RCW 49.60.174 Evaluation of claim of discrimination — Actual or perceived HIV or hepatitis C infection.
- RCW 49.44.090 Unfair practices in employment because of age of employee or applicant — Exceptions.
- West Virginia Non-Discrimination Law
- West Virginia Human Rights Act
- Wisconsin Non-Discrimination Law
- Wis. Stats. Chapter 111.36
- Wis. Stats. 111.355
- Wis. Stats. 111.33
- Wis. Stats. 111.35
- Wyoming Non-Discrimination Law
- Wyoming Code 27-9-105
- 22 Guam Code Ann. Chapter 3
- 22 Guam Code Ann. Chapter 5
- Puerto Rico Laws 29-I-7-146
- Puerto Rico Laws PR 29-I-7-151
- Virgin Islands Code on Employment Discrimination § 451
- EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION FOR PARTICIPATING IN EMERGENCY EVACUATION
- Addressing Sexual Orientation Discrimination In Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employee's Rights
- New Protections for Transgender Federal Workers
- http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-was-black-americas-double-war/ http://www.militaryaerospace.com/blogs/mil-aero-blog/2012/12/conspicuous-gallantry-doris-miller-at-pearl-harbor-was-one-of-world-war-ii-s-first-heroes.html http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pearlharbor/ngbeyond/people/
- GRIGGS v. DUKE POWER CO., 401 U.S. 424 (1971)
- Shaping Employment Discrimination Law
- Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws
- Pre 1965: Events Leading to the Creation of EEOC
- § 2000e–5. Enforcement provisions
- PART 1614--FEDERAL SECTOR EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
- Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 503
- An Overview of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices
- Directory of federal and state anti-discrimination agencies
- Disability Discrimination, by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Sex-Based Discrimination, by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Your Rights At Work (Connecticut)
- Barnes, Patricia G., (2014), Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace. The author, an attorney and judge, argues that the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 fails to protect older workers. Weak to begin with, she states that the ADEA has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Tweedy, Ann E. and Karen Yescavage, Employment Discrimination Against Bisexuals: An Empirical Study, 21 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 699 (2015)