Are You a Legal Professional?

Federal Discrimination Laws in the Workplace: The Basics

Federal laws protect U.S. workers from various forms of employment discrimination and harassment. These federal discrimination laws apply to all phases of employment, from the job listing and interview process to termination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces these laws by investigating employee complaints and claims. The following provides a general overview of federal discrimination laws, organized by type, with links to more-detailed resources.

Check out FindLaw’s extensive Employment Discrimination section, including Filing Discrimination Charges with the EEOC, for additional information.

Racial Discrimination

The federal anti-discrimination law entitled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (or just “Title VII”) prohibits qualifying employers from discriminating on the basis of race, skin color, or characteristics associated with a given race. This law also covers harassment of employees by managers or other employees on the basis of their race or skin color. Note that employment practices that are applied equally to everyone can still be discriminatory if they have a negative impact on a given racial group.

For more information, see the following FindLaw resources:

Gender-Based (Sex) Discrimination

Similarly, Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender (also referred to as sex discrimination). This also covers unfair treatment based on an individual’s association with a gender-based organization, transgender orientation, and (in some cases) homosexuality. Examples of gender discrimination may include a refusal to hire women, lack of advancement opportunities for women, or the marginalization of transgendered employees.

For more in-depth information, read:

Age Discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects many workers ages 40 and up from unfair treatment, while also prohibiting age discrimination with regards to benefits and retirement. For instance, employers generally may not pass up an older, more qualified employee for a promotion in favor of a younger, less-qualified one.

For more information, check out FindLaw's resources on:

Religious Discrimination

Discrimination against employees on the basis of their religious beliefs is also prohibited in many cases by Title VII. These protections extend to individuals who do not belong to an organized religious group, but who still have strong moral or ethical beliefs. As with other types of discrimination, this also protects employees who are treated differently for merely associating with someone belonging to a given religious group.

For more information, visit:

Pregnancy Discrimination

Another federal law known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discriminatory treatment of women based on pregnancy, childbirth, or other conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. For instance, a woman generally may not be passed up for a promotion because of her pregnancy if she is the most qualified for the promotion. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act protect a woman’s rights to reasonable accommodations and/or leave associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

For more detailed, in-depth information please see:

Disability Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids discrimination against, and protects the opportunities of, individuals with disabilities (or those perceived to have an impairment). The ADA also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers who have a disability, such as disabled workplace access or other options that don’t place an unreasonable burden on the company or other employees.

For more detailed, in-depth information please see:

Equal Pay & Wage Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender, requiring that men and women in the same workplace be paid equally for equal work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act increased the amount of time women have to file claims. Additionally, Title VII; the ADEA; and the ADA also require equal pay regardless of race, religion, or other protected characteristics.

For more information:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, offensive sexual comments, and non-sexual but offensive remarks about someone’s gender. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment, which is considered a form of gender discrimination. Also banned is “quid pro quo” harassment (which translates to “something for something”), involving a promise of employment-related benefits in exchange for acceptance of the harasser's advances or conduct.

For more information:

National Origin Discrimination

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of one’s country or region of origin, ethnicity, or other characteristics that may be associated with a given nationality. This includes the mere appearance of having a certain ethnic background. Additionally, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of one’s citizenship or immigration status.

For more information:

Genetic Information Discrimination

Genetic testing is a newer area of the law and triggers protections under Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA prohibits the use of genetic information when making any employment-related decisions. For instance, a company may not terminate someone because a blood test reveals a strong likelihood that they will develop terminal cancer. In addition to information related to genetic tests, GINA also applies to family medical history and whether an employee (or job applicant) has requested genetic testing.

See Genetic Information Discrimination for more details.

Need More Information? Speak with a Lawyer

Discrimination in the workplace can come in many forms -- race, gender, maternal status. What is important to know is that there are laws in place to help citizens should they be the victim of job discrimination. If you want to know more, contact an employment discrimination lawyer in your area today.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney
to make sure your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution