Employment Discrimination Laws In A Nutshell

How can I protect my business from employment discrimination claims?

Business owners need to be aware of a variety of state and federal laws, not the least of which are employment discrimination laws. In short, these laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and prospective job applicants when making any employment decision, including hiring, firing, promoting, demoting or compensating employees. These laws also make it illegal to discriminate regarding any other terms and conditions of employment. While state laws vary, let’s take a look at the federal laws governing many employers.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Workplace discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and gender is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This agency is responsible for investigating claims of employment discrimination.

Before a lawsuit can be brought under Title VII, an employee or job applicant must first file a claim with the EEOC. Even if the agency finds there is no basis for a claim, a lawsuit can still be brought against an employer. Lastly, this law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employers with 15 or more employees are barred from discriminating against or harassing disabled employees by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, this law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to enable a qualified disabled worker to complete his or her job functions.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA prohibits discrimination against, or harassment of,  women based on their pregnancy status regarding any aspect of employment. In short, women who are temporarily unable to perform their jobs due to pregnancy must be treated similarly to other temporarily disabled workers. The PDA also applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

This law prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating against individuals who are 40 years or older. An employee’s age cannot be used as a factor in any employment decision.


Lastly, employers are also barred from taking retaliatory measures against employees who file a complaint about discrimination or who engage in other protected activities. Retaliation can include firing or demoting an employee, changing job assignments, or work shifts. Other forms of behavior, such as hostile attitudes by supervisors or coworkers toward an employee who has filed a discrimination complaint are also considered retaliation.

The Takeaway

It is essential for business owners to be aware of their responsibilities under state and federal discrimination laws. A business that violates these laws can be fined by the government and face costly lawsuits. Even if a business prevails in these actions, discrimination claims can damage its reputation, and hinder its success in the marketplace and its ability to attract talented employees. By consulting with an experienced business and employment law attorney, you can establish policies and procedures that ensure your business adheres to these laws.