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Sex / Gender Discrimination: Overview

Discrimination on the basis of sex has a long history in the United States, and its residual effects still operate to keep women's salaries lower and opportunities fewer in the employment realm. It also significantly affects transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer individuals. Even cisgender men can experience sex discrimination in the workplace. No matter what form it takes — unequal pay, discriminatory job standards, or failure to promote — numerous federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.

What Constitutes Sex Discrimination?

The essence of sex discrimination is unequal treatment on the basis of sex. The treatment must not simply be different, but also unequal, and therefore unfair. For example, requiring women and men to use separate restrooms does not constitute sex discrimination. But it is sex discrimination to provide different working conditions, salaries, hiring, promotion, or bonus criteria to individuals of different genders.

One form of sex discrimination is sexual harassment. Individuals of all genders have the right to secure and perform their jobs free of unwanted demands for romantic or sexual relationships, or unwanted communications or behaviors of a sexual nature that interfere with their ability to work.

Sex Discrimination and the Law: Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides strong protections against sex discrimination in employment. Specifically, Title VII makes it illegal 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 [their] compensation, terms, or privileges of employment, because of such individual'; or

"2) to limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise affect [the individual's] status as an employee, because of such individual'"

Title VII also prohibits sex discrimination in on-the-job and apprenticeship programs, retaliation against an employee for opposing a discriminatory employment practice, and sexually stereotyped advertisements for employment positions.

Workplace Harassment as Sexual Discrimination

Workplace harassment is another form of unlawful discrimination. Employers must not only grant all genders equal pay and opportunities; they must also remedy any sexual harassment situations that are known, or of which the employer should be aware. This includes both harassment of lower-tier employees by a manager or executive and sexual harassment among coworkers.

Harassment involves unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

It is illegal for an employer to make sexual conduct a condition or term of employment, to base employment decisions on such conduct, or to permit sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Lewd comments, unwanted touching, displays of sexual objects or photographs, or offensive cartoons or drawings may constitute sexual harassment when they interfere with an individual's work performance.

Get Legal Assistance With Your Sex/Gender Discrimination Claim

Most employers have procedures for reporting sexual discrimination, but these situations can still be difficult for an affected employee to address. Sometimes, legal action becomes necessary when an employer takes a discriminatory position against an employee based on sex. Speaking with an experienced employment law attorney can help you to protect your rights and pursue a proper remedy if you've been the victim of discrimination. 

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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