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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 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.




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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;
  • Recruitment;
  • Testing;
  • 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 reading.

Many states and municipalities also have enacted protections against discrimination and harassment based on:

  • sexual orientation;
  • status as a parent;
  • marital status; and
  • political affiliation




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What Other Practices are Discriminatory Under These Laws?

Title VII prohibits:

  • intentional discrimination;
  • practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their
    • race,
    • color,
    • national origin,
    • religion,
    • or sex

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

  • Sexual Harassment
    • 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
    • Pregnancy,
    • childbirth, and
    • related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.




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What Lawsuits Can Be Brought?

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.




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Which Employers and Other Entitites 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.

The ADEA covers all private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local governments (including school districts), employment agencies and labor organizations.

The EPA covers all employers 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 Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, which incorporate 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.

The CSRA (not enforced by EEOC) covers most federal agency employees except employees of a government corporation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and as determined by the President, any executive agency or unit thereof, the principal function of which is the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activities, or the General Accounting Office.




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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 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 identity.




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How is a Charge of Discrimination Filed?

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.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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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 (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).

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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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.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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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. EEOC refers to these agencies as “Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs).” Through the use of “work sharing agreements,” 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 for handling.

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.

If a charge is filed with EEOC and also is covered by state or local law, EEOC “dual files” the charge with the state or local FEPA, but ordinarily retains the charge for handling.




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What Happens after a Charge is filed with EEOC?

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.

EEOC 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 appropriate.

The charge may be selected for Exec’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.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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How Does EEOC Resolve Discrimination Charges?

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 discrimination.

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 these actions.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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When Can an Individual File an Employment Discrimination Lawsuit in Court?

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 wage.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see the fact sheet about Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.




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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,
  • Hiring,
  • Promotion,
  • Reinstatement,
  • 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 the federal, 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 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 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.

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Located at 300 Garden City Plaza | Suite 444 | Garden City NY 11530
Phone: (516) 584-4685