Can employers really discriminate against employees for any reason?
No, a major exception to the employment-at-will doctrine is employment discrimination law. There are a host of federal and state laws that limit certain employers (employers with a certain number of employees) from discriminating against workers for certain reasons, such as their race or sex.
What are some of the major anti-discrimination laws at the federal level?
There are several numerous federal anti-discrimination laws. The major federal antidiscrimination law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers because of their race, color, national origin, religion, and gender. It makes it "an unlawful employment practice for an employer ... to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
Passed during the Civil Rights Movement, Title VII remains the leading anti-discrimination law in employment. Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against those employees who participate in Title VII proceedings or oppose employment practices that they reasonably believe are unlawful.
However, Title VII is not the only such statute. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against workers who are a certain age (40 years of age or older). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibit employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. Still another anti-discrimination law is 42 U.S.C. 1981, which prohibits intentional racial discrimination in employment.
The Equal Pay Act provides that women and men receive equal pay for equal work.
Does my state also have anti-discrimination laws that protect me as an employee?
Yes, states also have laws that protect employees from unlawful discrimination. Many of these state laws are based on the federal laws. For example, Tennessee has an employment discrimination law known as the Tennessee Human Rights Act of 1978. That law was based on major federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967.
Your lawyer can give you guidance on whether to sue for employment discrimination under a federal law, state law or both. The lawyer can tell you, for instance, whether your state anti-discrimination law offers more or less protection than the federal law.
What is Title VII?
Title VII is the seventh major section (or title) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a major piece of civil rights legislation enacted during the Civil Rights Movement as a way to provide greater protection to people.
Does Title VII apply to all employees?
No, Title VII applies to those employers in the public and private sectors who employ 15 or more full-time employees in 20 or more calendar weeks during the year or previous year. This means that an employer who has only 10 full-time employees is not subject to Title VII. Fortunately, many workers who are not covered by Title VII may be protected by a state anti-discrimination law. For example, the Tennessee Human Rights Act prohibits employers who employ eight or more full-time employees from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, and other protected characteristics. Employees should consult with an attorney well-versed in both federal and state employment to determine what the best legal option available.