What Federal Laws Prohibit Employment Discrimination?

Several laws regulate discrimination in the workplace. They include:
• Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
• 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 and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments;
• Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government; and
• the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all of these laws. EEOC also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.

Other federal laws, not enforced by EEOC, also prohibit discrimination and reprisal against federal employees and applicants. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) contains a number of prohibitions, known as prohibited personnel practices, which are designed to promote overall fairness in federal personnel actions. 5 U.S.C. 2302. The CSRA prohibits any employee who has authority to take certain personnel actions from discriminating for or against employees or applicants for employment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. It also provides that certain personnel actions can not be based on attributes or conduct that do not adversely affect employee performance, such as marital status and political affiliation. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has interpreted the prohibition of discrimination based on conduct to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. The CSRA also prohibits reprisal against federal employees or applicants for whistle-blowing, or for exercising an appeal, complaint, or grievance right. The CSRA is enforced by both the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

What Is National Origin Discrimination?

It is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture or linquistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group.  For example, 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 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 ensure that employees are leally 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 forein 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 U.S. citizens in hiring or employment opportunities may also violate IRCA. 

What Is Sex of Gender Discrimination?

Discrimination on the basis of sex, or gender, is prohibited under Title VII.   Examples of this kind of discrimination include sexual harassent and pregancy based discrimination. Sexual harassment includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment. (The "hostile environment" standard also applies to harassment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability.) Pregnancy based discrimination includes discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.  These situations must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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