U.S. Employee Discrimination Laws

Congress enacted a series of statutes in the 1960’s through the early 1990’s to control the pervasive problem of employment discrimination. These statutes include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), among others.

The main purpose of Title VII is to influence primary conduct and avoid harm not to simply provide provide redress. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or natural origin. “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer─

(1) To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, term, conditions, or privilege of employment, because of such individual’s race. color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) To limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Title VII is applied to all employers who have 15 or more workers and covers both private and public employment.

Congress has amended Title VII several times, but the most significant amendment occurred in 1978 to clarify that sexual discrimination may involve those for harassment or pregnancy Sexual harassment does not extend to sexual orientation.

Religious discrimination includes failure to make reasonable accommodation to allow an employee’s religious practices. Title VII prohibits religious discrimination whether it is intentional (the result of conscious decision to discriminate), or whether it is the outcome of the unintended, causing a disparate impact on a protected group when a neutral criterion is applied to that group. However, Congress exempted the religious organizations, especially churches and educational institutions, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-1. In other words, bona fide religious organizations may require employees of a particular faith to perform services for them. 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-1.” Similarly, other organizations may require a person to be of a particular religion, sex, or national origin (but not race or color) if religion, sex, or national origin is a “bona fide” occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business or enterprise

Congress adopted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, also known as the ADEA three years after Title VII and addressed age discrimination. “ It shall be unlawful for an employer─

1. To fail or refused to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditional, or privilege of employment, because of such and individual’s age; or

2. To limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such and individual’s age…

ADEA is applied to public and private employers with twenty (20) or more employees. In order to qualify for the protection of the ADEA an employee must be forty (40) years of age or older.

Congress passed The Americans with Disabilities Act, or “ADA,” to prevent the discrimination of qualified individuals with disabilities. This statute is applied to public and private employers with fifteen or more employees. The ADA provides that: No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

A distinction in this statute in comparison with other statutes designed to guard against discrimination is that the test to establish membership in the protected class is extensive. To claim protection under statute an employee must be a qualified individual with a disability as defined by §3(2) of 42 U.S.C. § 11102(2) which states:

(A) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of…[an] individual;
(B) A record of such an impairment; or
(C) Being regarded as having an impairment

A qualified individual is “an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodations, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” This a person can be protected by the statute even if they can not do all the functions of the job so long as they can perform the essential functions, and this is true even if performing the essential function is only possible with reasonable accommodation.

If you wish to read more on the topic please take a look at Ms. Cinocca’s full paper on Employee Discharge Documentation in Oklahoma: FMLA Overview Litigation.

For more information please visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.
See also our employment section of our Golden Rule Resources.

UPDATE: Changes happen to the employment discrimination laws, so please always check with us for any updates and about the particular facts of your matter.