On average, approximately 80,000 discrimination claims are filed each year nationwide. The majority involves discrimination based on race, age, disability or gender.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination based on race. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and every race is covered under the statute.
What the law says, in essence, is that an employee may not be discriminated against because of his or her race regarding any term, condition or privilege of employment, which includes hiring, promotion, transfer, discharge and pay.
Common examples of racial discrimination are paying white employees more than employees of other races for the same work, allowing only white employees to work overtime, and relying on racial stereotypes to decide who should get a pay raise or promotion.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees who are 40 years of age or older against discrimination based on their age. It applies to employers with 20 or more employees and generally protects discrimination based on any term, condition or privilege of employment.
Common examples of age discrimination relating to employment are requiring employees to retire at a certain age, refusing to hire someone because of his or her age, denying older employees benefits, and refusing to assign certain jobs to older employees simply because of their age.
Employers may institute age-related requirements if those requirements are related to the job. This is common in law enforcement and firefighter jobs, and courts have said that mandatory-retirement ages in those fields are acceptable. This exception to age discrimination is known as a bona fide occupational qualification.
To successfully prove age discrimination, an employee must generally show that a person who was substantially younger was given preferential treatment. However, no concrete rule exists for what “substantially younger” means. For example, if a 65-year-old employee was fired when a 55-year-old employee was not, age discrimination would be difficult to prove. If that 65-year-old employee was fired when a 35-year-old employee was not, the chance of a successful case is stronger.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified disabled employees and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability unless the accommodation would unduly burden the employer. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees and covers discrimination based on any term, condition or privilege of employment.
Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex and applies to discrimination regarding any term, condition or privilege of employment. It applies equally to men and women, although the majority of claims involve discrimination against women.
One common form of sex discrimination is sexual harassment; another type is the targeting of a person because of his or her status as a man or a woman. Sex discrimination can come in the form of hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, determining eligibility for benefits or any other tangible employment action. Two specific forms of sex discrimination (aside from sexual harassment) are paying someone less or more money simply because that person is a man or a woman and discriminating against a woman based on the fact that she is pregnant.
Discrimination based on sex can take many forms, but common examples are allowing a person of one sex to work overtime but not the other, relying on sexual stereotypes (such as not hiring a woman to do physical work because women are stereotyped as weaker than men), and implementing certain policies that happen to favor men over women (such as a physical test unrelated to job performance).
A specific type of sex discrimination, called “sex plus” discrimination, involves discrimination based on sex plus something else related to that person’s status as a man or woman. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire women with small children when that employer hires men with small children. This type of discrimination happens frequently because employers assume that the woman is the primary caretaker of the children and that she would miss work periodically to care for the children.
Last update: Nov. 5, 2008
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