A protected group or protected class is a group of people qualified for special protection by a law, policy, or similar authority. In the United States, the term is frequently used in connection with employees and employment.
Where discrimination on the basis of protected group status is concerned, a single act of discrimination may be based on membership in more than one protected group. For example, discrimination based on antisemitism may relate to religion, national origin, or both; discrimination against a pregnant woman might be based on sex, marital status, or both.
U.S. federal law protects individuals from discrimination or harassment based on the following nine protected classes: sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin, religion, or genetic information (added in 2008). Many state laws also give certain protected groups special protection against harassment and discrimination, as do many employer policies. Although it is not required by federal law, employer policies may also protect employees from harassment or discrimination based on marital status or sexual orientation. The following characteristics are "protected" by United States federal anti-discrimination law:
- Race – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Religion – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- National origin – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Age (40 and over) – Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Sex – Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- Citizenship – Immigration Reform and Control Act
- Familial status – Civil Rights Act of 1968 Title VIII: Prohibits discriminate for having children, with an exception for senior housing. Also prohibits making a preference for those with children.
- Disability status – Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Veteran status – Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Genetic information – Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
Individual states can and do create other classes for protection under state law.
U.S. Presidents have also issued executive orders which prohibit consideration of particular attributes in employment decisions of the United States government and its contractors. These have included Executive Order 11246 (1965), Executive Order 11478 (1969), Executive Order 13087 (1998), Executive Order 13279 (2003), and Executive Order 13672 (2014).
- Civil Rights Act of 1866
- Affirmative action
- Civil Rights Act of 1968—In particular, Title VIII of the Act, also known as the Fair Housing Act.
- Note that just as it is illegal to discriminate against a protected class, it is illegal to make any preference, as well. (Example: It is just as illegal to make a preference for a particular religion as it is to discriminate against a particular religion.)
- Familial Status - Illustrates how Department of Defense housing policies violate the Fair Housing Act.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
- Suspect classification
- "Protected Group Member Law & Legal Definition". Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- "Facts about Discrimination in Federal Government Employment Based on Marital Status, Political Affiliation, Status as a Parent, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity". Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Retrieved 15 June 2016.