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Federal Sex Discrimination Laws

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Are There Federal Laws That Protect Against Sex Discrimination?

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not discriminate against employees or potential employees based on sex. This act is the largest piece of anti-discrimination legislation enacted by the U.S. government.

Within the act, Title VII prohibits discrimination of employees on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Under Title VII’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was added as an amendment that protects pregnant women from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

An increasing number of courts are ruling that Title VII also provides protection for LGBTQ individuals. However, this is still limited to court rulings and is not a formal law. As of August 2018, he protection of LGBTQ individuals is still not codified or put in a government created law, so protection under Title VII is not guaranteed.

What is Sex-Based Discrimination?

Sex discrimination involves treating or discriminating against someone, or harassing them, differently or unfavorably because of their sex or gender. Sex discrimination against a person because of their sex is a violation of federal law.

The law forbids sex discrimination by an employer when it comes to any aspect of employment or job-related duties including firing, hiring, employment benefits, job assignments, terms and conditions of employment, layoff, and bonuses. Retaliation by an employer for an employee asserting their rights under Title VII is also illegal.

It is also unlawful to harass an employee in the workplace because of their sex or gender. Harassment can include any unwelcome gesture or sexual advances that are not consented or welcomed by the employee.

Which Employers are Required to Follow Title VII?

Title VII does not apply to every employer. But it does apply to:

  • Private employers with at least 15 employees;
  • Federal government;
  • State governments and their agencies;
  • Employment agencies; and
  • Labor organizations.

Essentially, it applies to employers/organizations that are large enough for federal interference. This does not mean that employers are free to discriminate based on sex or gender. Local state laws may apply when federal laws do not, so if your employer does not count under the federal law, be sure to check your local law.

What Can I Do If I Have Been a Victim of Sex Discrimination?

First, you should take your concerns to the Human Resources department of your employer, or use your employer’s stated internal process for resolving complaints.

If this is unsuccessful, you may file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must do this before you can file a lawsuit. The EEOC has offices around the country. You can file a charge at the nearest local office, or online.

There are timelines within which you must file your claim after the discrimination occurs, so if you believe you are the victim of sex discrimination, you should check into this immediately. If the EEOC does not find for discrimination, you will be released to pursue the matter in court (to file a lawsuit) and given a Notice of Right to Sue. Many states also have separate agencies that handle discrimination charges, and you may file charges with them, as well.

Can I Win a Federal Sex Discrimination Case?

In order to win a sex discrimination claim, you only need to show that sex was a “substantial factor” in your employer’s discriminatory actions. It only needs to be a substantial factor and does not need to be the only factor. It also doesn’t matter if the employer and discriminated employee are of the same sex.

Your employer may also have several defenses that may make it harder to win the sex discrimination claim. One defense employers can raise is “bona fide occupational qualification.” This means that if a person is incapable of doing a job because of their sex, Title VII does not prohibit seemingly discriminatory actions.

For example, a job requirement to be able to lift a certain amount of weight may preclude women from being good candidates for a job, and this requirement may be held to be legitimate as a bona fide occupational qualification. As another example, if an employer needs models for a male clothing line and hires only men to be models, a woman who was denied a job as a model would not have a claim against the employer.

What are Some Sex Discrimination and Employment Policies and Practices?

All employers that have employees must have special rules that govern sex discrimination in the workplace. An employer policy or practice that applies to everyone would prohibit sexual discrimination and harassment within the workplace by employees and employers.

While it probably will not vary widely between employers, it is possible that certain employers may have a stricter requirement. Like employers of religious organizations or companies that are clearly founded for religious purposes.

Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer For My Discrimination Claim?

It is always a good idea to consult with a lawyer if you have been the victim of sex discrimination. An employment attorney near you can advise you on whether federal court would be right for you and can help guide you through the process of filing suit.

Photo of page author Katie Hamblen

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-16-2018 12:38 AM PDT

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