Federal Laws Prohibiting Discrimination in Employment


  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964-prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 protects Men and Women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments
  • Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991- provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination
  • Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) permits unpaid leave, without recrimination for certain qualifying activities
  • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and child labor standards
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) provides that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will set standards and conduct workplace inspections to ensure that employers are complying with the standards and providing a safe and healthful workplace

It Is Illegal To Discriminate In Any Aspect Of Employment, Including:

  • hiring and firing
  • compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
  • transfer, promotion, layoff or recall
  • job advertisements
  • recruitment
  • testing
  • use of company facilities
  • training and apprenticeship programs
  • fringe benefits
  • pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
  • other terms and conditions of employments

Discriminatory Practices Include:

  • harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age
  • retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation or opposing discriminatory practices
  • employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities
  • denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to or association with an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.


Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, such as:

National Origin Discrimination

  • It is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group
  • A rule requiring that employees speak only English on the job may violate Title VII unless an employer shows that the requirement is necessary for conducting the business. If the employer believes such a rule is necessary, employees must be informed when English is required and the consequences for violating the rule
  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires employers to assure that employees hired are legally authorized to work in the US. However, an employer who requests employment verification only for individuals of a particular national origin, or individuals who appear to be or sound foreign, may violate both Title VII and IRCA; verification must be obtained from all applicants and employees. Employers who impose citizenship requirements or give preferences to US Citizens in hiring or employment opportunities also may violate IRCA.

Religious Accommodation

  • An employer is required to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship

Sex Discrimination

Title VII’s broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:

  • Sexual harassment – This includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either sex. (The “hostile environment” standard also applies to harassment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, age and disability.)
  • Pregnancy Based Discrimination – Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the say way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA’s broad ban against age discrimination also specifically prohibits:

  • statements or specifications in job notices or advertisements of age preference and limitations. An age limit may only be specified in the rare circumstances where age has been proven to be a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)
  • discrimination on the basis of age by apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs
  • denial of benefits to older employees. An employer may reduce benefits based upon age only if the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers

Equal Pay Act (EPA)

The EPA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages or benefits, where men and women perform work of similar skill, effort, and responsibility for the same employer under similar working conditions. Note that:

  • Employers may not reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men and women
  • A violation of the EPA may occur where a different wage was/is paid to a person who worked in the same job before or after an employee of the opposite sex
  • A violation may also occur where a labor union causes the employer to violate the law


The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all employment practices. It is necessary to understand several important ADA definitions to know who is protected by the law and what constitutes illegal discrimination:

Individual with a Disability
An individual with a disability under the ADA is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working.

Qualified Individual with a Disability
A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is someone who satisfies skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position

Reasonable Accommodation
Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to, making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; job restructuring; modification of work schedules; providing additionally unpaid leave; reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters. Reasonable accommodation may be necessary to apply for a job, to perform job functions, or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that are enjoyed by people without disabilities. An employer is not required to provide to lower production standards to make an accommodation . An employer generally is not obligated to provide personal use items such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.

Undue Hardship
An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. Undue hardship means an action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as a business’ size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

Prohibited Inquiries and Examinations
Before making an offer of employment, an employer may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in the same job category. Medial examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Drug and Alcohol Use
Employees and applicants currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs are not protected by the ADA, when an employer acts on the basis of such use. Test for illegal use of drugs are not considered medical examinations and, therefore, are not subject to the ADA’s restrictions on medical examinations. Employers may hold individuals who are illegally using drugs and individuals with alcoholism to the same standards of performance as other employees.