Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination
Questions And Answers
Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws
I. What Are the Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination?
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits
employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national
- the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA),
which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the
same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
- the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),
which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),
which 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, which prohibits
discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in
the federal government; and
- the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which provides monetary damages in cases of
intentional employment discrimination.
II. What Discriminatory Practices Are Prohibited by These Laws?
Under Title VII, the ADA,
and the ADEA, 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;
- use of company facilities;
- training and apprenticeship programs;
- fringe benefits;
- pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
- other terms and conditions of employment.
Discriminatory practices under these laws also 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; and
- 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.
Employers are required to post notices to all employees advising them of
their rights under the laws EEOC
enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be
accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect
III. What Other Practices Are Discriminatory Under These Laws?
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.
National Origin Discrimination
- It is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace,
ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic
- 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 (IRCA)
of 1986 requires employers to assure that employees hired are legally
authorized to work in the U.S. 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
verification must be obtained from all applicants and employees. Employers
who impose citizenship requirements or give preferences to U.S. citizens in
hiring or employment opportunities also may violate IRCA.
- An employer is required to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of
an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue
Title VII's broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
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
circumstance where age has been proven to be a bona fide occupational
- discrimination on the basis of age by apprenticeship programs, including
joint labor-management apprenticeship programs; and
- denial of benefits to older employees. An employer may reduce benefits
based on 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.
- Employers may not reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men
- 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.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
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
- 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 additional 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 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. Medical 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. Tests 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.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 made major changes in the federal laws against
employment discrimination enforced by EEOC.
Enacted in part to reverse several Supreme Court decisions that limited the
rights of persons protected by these laws, the Act also provides additional
protections. The Act authorizes compensatory and punitive damages in cases of
intentional discrimination, and provides for obtaining attorneys' fees and the
possibility of jury trials. It also directs the EEOC
to expand its technical assistance and outreach activities.
Employers And Other Entities Covered By EEO
IV. Which Employers and Other Entities Are Covered by These Laws?
Title VII and the ADA
cover all private employers, state and local governments, and education
institutions that employ 15 or more individuals. These laws also cover private
and public employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor management
committees controlling apprenticeship and training.
covers all private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local
governments (including school districts), employment agencies and labor
The EPA covers all employees who are
covered by the Federal Wage and Hour Law (the Fair Labor Standards Act).
Virtually all employers are subject to the provisions of this Act.
Title VII, the ADEA,
and the EPA also cover the federal
government. In addition, the federal government is covered by Section 501 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, which incorporates the requirements of
the ADA. However,
different procedures are used for processing complaints of federal
discrimination. For more information on how to file a complaint of federal
discrimination, contact the EEO
office of the federal agency where the alleged discrimination occurred.
Charge Processing Procedures
V. Who Can File a Charge of Discrimination?
- Any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been
violated may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
- In addition, an individual, organization, or agency may file a charge on
behalf of another person in order to protect the aggrieved person's
VI. How Is a Charge of Discrimination Filed?
- Contact an Attorney--Without an attorney, you are left to the mercy of a
government bureaucrat who may cause irreparable harm to your case.
- A charge may be filed by mail or in person at the nearest EEOC
office. Individuals may consult their local telephone directory (U.S.
Government listing) or call 1-800-669-4000 (voice) or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY)
to contact the nearest EEOC
office for more information on specific procedures for filing a charge.
- Individuals who need an accommodation in order to file a charge (e.g.,
sign language interpreter, print materials in an accessible format) should
inform the EEOC
field office so appropriate arrangements can be made.
VII. What Information Must Be Provided to File a Charge?
- The complaining party's name, address, and telephone number;
- The name, address, and telephone number of the respondent employer,
employment agency, or union that is alleged to have discriminated, and
number of employees (or union members), if known;
- A short description of the alleged violation(s) (the event that caused the
complaining party to believe that his or her rights were violated); and
- The date(s) of the alleged violation(s).
VIII. What Are the Time Limits for Filing a Charge of Discrimination?
All laws enforced by EEOC,
except the Equal Pay Act, require filing a charge with EEOC
before a private lawsuit may be filed in court. There are strict time limits
within which charges must be filed:
- A charge must be filed with EEOC
within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation, in order to protect
the charging party's rights.
- This 180-day filing deadline is extended to 300 days if the charge also is
covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. For ADEA
charges, only state laws extend the filing limit to 300 days.
- These time limits do not apply to claims under the Equal Pay Act, because
under that Act persons do not have to first file a charge with EEOC
in order to have the right to go to court. However, since many EPA
claims also raise Title VII sex discrimination issues, it may be advisable
to file charges under both laws within the time limits indicated.
- To protect legal rights, it is always best to contact EEOC
promptly when discrimination is suspected.
IX. What Agency Handles a Charge That Is Also Covered by State or Local Law?
Many states and localities have anti-discrimination laws and agencies
responsible for enforcing those laws. The EEOC
refers to these agencies as "Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs)."
Through the use of "work sharing agreements," the EEOC
and the FEPAs avoid
duplication of effort while at the same time ensuring that a charging party's
rights are protected under both federal and state law.
- If a charge is filed with a FEPA
and is also covered by federal law, the FEPA
"dual files" the charge with EEOC
to protect federal rights. The charge usually will be retained by the FEPA
- If a charge is filed with the EEOC
and also is covered by state or local law, the EEOC
"dual files" the charge with the state or local FEPA,
but ordinarily retains the charge for handling.
X. What Happens After a Charge Is Filed With the EEOC?
Often, very little.
The employer is notified that the charge has been filed. From this point
there are a number of ways a charge may be handled:
- A charge may be assigned for priority investigation if the initial facts
appear to support a violation of law. When the evidence is less strong, the
charge may be assigned for follow up investigation to determine whether it
is likely that a violation has occurred.
can seek to settle a charge at any stage of the investigation if the
charging party and the employer express an interest in doing so. If
settlement efforts are not successful, the investigation continues.
- In investigating a charge, EEOC
may make written requests for information, interview people, review
documents, and, as needed, visit the facility where the alleged
discrimination occurred. When the investigation is complete, EEOC
will discuss the evidence with the charging party or employer, as
- The charge may be selected for EEOC's
mediation program if both the charging party and the employer express an
interest in this option. Mediation is offered as an alternative to a lengthy
investigation. Participation in the mediation program is confidential,
voluntary, and requires consent from both charging party and employer. If
mediation is unsuccessful, the charge is returned for investigation.
- A charge may be dismissed at any point if, in the agency's best judgment,
further investigation will not establish a violation of the law. A charge
may be dismissed at the time it is filed, if an initial in-depth interview
does not produce evidence to support the claim. When a charge is dismissed,
a notice is issued in accordance with the law which gives the charging party
90 days in which to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf.
XI. How Does EEOC
Resolve Discrimination Charges?
- Most gather dust and then you receive a letter stating that "all
charges are assessed using established case processing priorities...Based on
our assessment of the evidence obtained on your case" (most often
limited to the information you provided and a scant response by the
employer), "we believe that it is unlikely that further investigation
or further use of our limited resources will result in a finding of a
violation.... Therefore, we will not pursue further the investigation of
your charge. However, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the
named Respondent within 90 days...."
- If the evidence obtained in an investigation does not establish that
discrimination occurred, this will be explained to the charging party. A
required notice is then issued, closing the case and giving the charging
party 90 days in which to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf.
- If the evidence establishes that discrimination has occurred, the employer
and the charging party will be informed of this in a letter of determination
that explains the finding. EEOC
will then attempt conciliation with the employer to develop a remedy for the
- If the case is successfully conciliated, or if a case has earlier been
successfully mediated or settled, neither EEOC
nor the charging party may go to court unless the conciliation, mediation,
or settlement agreement is not honored.
- If EEOC
is unable to successfully conciliate the case, the agency will decide
whether to bring suit in federal court. If EEOC
decides not to sue, it will issue a notice closing the case and giving the
charging party 90 days in which to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf.
In Title VII and ADA
cases against state or local governments, the Department of Justice takes
XII. When Can an Individual File an Employment Discrimination Lawsuit in
A charging party may file a lawsuit within 90 days after receiving a notice
of a "right to sue" from EEOC,
as stated above. Under Title VII and the ADA,
a charging party also can request a notice of "right to sue" from EEOC
180 days after the charge was first filed with the Commission, and may then
bring suit within 90 days after receiving this notice. Under the ADEA,
a suit may be filed at any time 60 days after filing a charge with EEOC,
but not later than 90 days after EEOC
gives notice that it has completed action on the charge.
Under the EPA, a lawsuit must be
filed within two years (three years for willful violations) of the
discriminatory act, which in most cases is payment of a discriminatory lower
XIII. What Remedies Are Available When Discrimination Is Found?
The "relief" or remedies available for employment discrimination,
whether caused by intentional acts or by practices that have a discriminatory
effect, may include:
- back pay,
- front pay,
- reasonable accommodation, or
- other actions that will make an individual "whole" (in the
condition s/he would have been but for the discrimination).
Remedies also may include payment of:
- attorneys' fees,
- expert witness fees, and
- court costs.
Under most EEOC-enforced
laws, compensatory and punitive damages also may be available where intentional
discrimination is found. Damages may be available to compensate for actual
monetary losses, for future monetary losses, and for mental anguish and
inconvenience. Punitive damages also may be available if an employer acted with
malice or reckless indifference. Punitive damages are not available against
state or local governments.
In cases concerning reasonable accommodation under the ADA,
compensatory or punitive damages may not be awarded to the charging party if an
employer can demonstrate that "good faith" efforts were made to
provide reasonable accommodation.
An employer may be required to post notices to all employees addressing the
violations of a specific charge and advising them of their rights under the laws
and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as
needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.
The employer also may be required to take corrective or preventive actions to
cure the source of the identified discrimination and minimize the chance of its
recurrence, as well as discontinue the specific discriminatory practices
involved in the case.