Employment Discrimination

Overview

Federal and state employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from engaging in unfair employment practices, such as hiring, assigning projects to, promoting, compensating, terminating, or harassing employees based on their race, religion, sex, physical disability, national origin, or age. In addition, some states have also enacted employment discrimination laws prohibiting employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Employment Discrimination in Private Employment

Several federal laws protect employees from illegal discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (42 USCS § 2000e) forbids prejudicial employment practices with regard to color, religion, sex, race or national origin. Title VII not only applies to employers, but to employment agencies and labor organizations as well. Title VII also created the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains the regulations relating to the EEOC. The EEOC is responsible for implementing Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, and portions of the Rehabilitation Act.

The National Labor Relations Act (29 USC §§ 151-169) protects employees from discrimination related to their participation in labor unions. The Act applies to both organized unions and acts by individuals who strive to obtain rights for a group of employees. The National Labor Relations Board oversees the enforcement of this Act.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (29 USC §§ 621-634) protects employees from age discrimination. Only employees over the age of 40 are permitted to bring a claim of age discrimination under the ADEA. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 USCS § 12101) outlaws discriminatory employment practices involving people with physical or mental disabilities. Similarly, the Rehabilitation Act (29 USCS § 791) strives to eliminate discrimination against disabled people by both public employers and employment entities who receive federal aid. The EEOC, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor are responsible for implementing the Rehabilitation Act. The Black Lung Benefits Act (26 USCS § 9501) specifically forbids mine operators from prejudicial practices involving miners who suffer from pneumoconiosis (black lung). The Equal Pay Act (29 USCS § 206) prohibits employers from paying people of opposite sexes different wages when they are working in similar conditions and are required to have the same skills.

In addition to the federal protections above, states also have their own laws protecting employees from employment discrimination and harassment, with some states extending greater protection than that afforded under federal law. For example, in California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a law which protects employees from employment discrimination and harassment based on sex (pregnancy or gender), sexual orientation, race, color, religion, marital status, denial of family and medical care leave, national origin (including language use restrictions), ancestry, medical condition (cancer/genetic characteristics), age (40 and above), disability (mental and physical including HIV and AIDS) as well as denial of pregnancy disability leave or reasonable accommodation. Furthermore, if an employer violates this Act, the law provides for administrative fines and remedies for individuals, including hiring, front pay, back pay, promotion, reinstatement, cease-and-desist orders, expert witness fees, reasonable attorney's fees and costs, punitive damages, and damages for emotional distress.

Employment Discrimination Against Government Employees

Unlike private employers, government agencies are subject to constitutional restraints on their employment practices. Specifically, the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause requires that the federal government provide persons with a proper hearing and procedure before depriving them of "life, liberty or property." Furthermore, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment ensures that all people are provided with the opportunity to enjoy "equal protection of the law" regardless of their membership in a protected class, such as sex, race, or national origin. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extends these protections to employees of state agencies as well.