Antidiscrimination in the workplace: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the cornerstone of federal antidiscrimination legislation. It was the nation’s first comprehensive federal law making it illegal to discriminate in employing anyone based on said person’s race, color , religion, gender or ethnicity.

Title VII of this Act was passed to ensure equality in hiring, promotions, transfers, compensation and other employment-related decisions. The provisions of Title VII make it illegal for most employers to engage in the following:

  1. Discrimination or segregation in all terms of employment based on race, color, religion, gender or ethnicity. (Please note that several state and local laws have expanded these protected classes to include sexual orientation, marital status and weight.)
  2. Classifying employees based on their protected class with the intent to prevent that class from employment opportunities or career progressions. For example, Title VII would protect an employee from being denied a promotion based on being of the Muslim religious faith.
  3. Discriminating against any employee because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.
  4. Not providing equal opportunity to participate in training programs which offer opportunities for advancement.
  5. Sexual harassment and harassment based on the other protected categories (race, religion, etc.). Tip: Employers should develop a policy prohibiting any form of harassment and should include an internal complaint procedure.
  6. Discrimination in compensation practices. Tip: Always base compensation on seniority, merit or performance and ensure that systems are in place that measure the quality and/or quality of work.

Title VII applies to most employers in the United States, and any organization meeting one or more of the criteria listed below is subject to the rules and regulation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the agency specifically set up by the government to monitor and administer the Act.

  • Most private employers who employ 15 or more persons on their payroll for 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding year;
  • Federal, state and local governments;
  • Public and private employment agencies when functioning as employers and when referring individuals for employment;
  • All educational institutions, public and private;
  • Labor unions with 15 or more members;
  • Joint (labor-management) committees for apprenticeships and training;

Several exceptions exist in regard to the definition of discrimination, such as:

  • Work-related requirements – For example, if a company manufactures and ships an item that weighs 70 pounds, few women may be able to pass this requirement.
  • Bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) – This is a criterion that is reasonably necessary to carry out the function of the job. For example, excluding males from consideration would be a BFOQ if you were hiring a women’s bathing suit model.  Similarly, filmmakers who hire actors based on race, gender or ethnicity would invoke the BFOQ.
  • If your company has a seniority system in place that was not set up to discriminate.

The EEOC has field offices nationwide and individuals who believe they have been discriminated against can file a charge in any field office.

Coming next… The EEOC complaint process.

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