Overview: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits applicant and employee discrimination and harassment based on race, color, sex, religion and national origin. It applies to almost all employers who employ more than 15 employees with some exceptions (i.e., Native American tribes, religious groups, bona fide nonprofit private membership organizations). Further, many states and municipalities maintain similar laws regarding equal opportunity in the workplace.
Title VII applies to all aspects of employment including hiring, firing, promotion and retention. It also prohibits retaliation for complaining of harassment or discrimination.
Title VII prohibits disparate treatment discrimination (treating an individual unfairly based on his or her protected class status) as well as disparate impact discrimination (when a neutral workplace policy or practice negatively affects individuals in a protected class).
In order to comply with Title VII, an employer should make sure to maintain policies and practices that do not discriminate against individuals based on a protected class.
An employer should make sure that all employment decisions are well documented and based upon job-related criteria, rather than the applicant or employee's protected class. This will assist the employer in defending any potential employment discrimination claims.
Further, an employer should aim to provide training to all supervisors and employees regarding its zero tolerance policy for discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Trends: Since its passage, the parameters of Title VII have continually expanded, and now prohibit sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and more.
In fact just recently, in Macy v. Holder, EEOC No. 012012082, the EEOC ruled that employment discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status is prohibited under Title VII as a form of unlawful sex discrimination.
However, employers should keep in mind that the US Supreme Court has reinforced the notion that religious entities are exempt from Title VII.
In 2012, the Court ruled in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012), that the ministerial exception under Title VII and the First Amendment prohibited a teacher who performed religious functions at a parochial school from bringing a claim for employment discrimination.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
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HR guidance on how to maintain and enforce policies and practices that prohibit discrimination, harassment and retaliation under Title VII.