Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 was put in place to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It applies to all public and private employers that have 15 or more people on payroll. Title VII specifically covers discriminatory practices involving race, color, religion, national origin and sex. The gender element has been extended and now covers pregnancy, sexual harassment and sexual stereotyping. Sexual orientation is not officially listed, but with America’s new marriage laws in place, more states are incorporating sexual orientation clauses within their own constitutions.
What Is Covered?
According to Title VII, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate with any of the following workplace elements:
• Recruiting, interviewing, hiring and onboarding
• Employee termination or probation measures
• Compensation, job assignment or worker classification
• Layoffs, transfers and recalls
• Job boards and career sites
• Pre-employment testing
• Use of company property
• Employee training
• Fringe benefits
• Retirement programs
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 loosened the requirements for filing a pay-related claim. By law, any employee has 180 days to furnish proof of salary discrimination, even if the act was performed in the past. For example, suppose you hire a man and a woman to perform the same job. Assume also that you pay the man slightly more than you pay the woman. She doesn’t have to acknowledge the unfair treatment right away. If fact, she can even wait 10 years to file the claim as long as she is still on payroll and her paycheck still reflects the original pay structure developed when she was hired. As long as the EEOC considers your act unreasonable, the 180-day requirement is not so black and white.
Where Does Harassment Fit In?
Hostile work place harassment and quid pro quo harassment are products of Title VII, but they are not specifically stated in any clause. Nonetheless, it’s not hard to incorporate sexual harassment into a Title VII case for discrimination. If an act involves any sort of threat to a victim’s employment terms, then sexual harassment will likely be a factor. Likewise, if the act creates a hostile or uncomfortable environment in any way, it automatically breaks the Title VII law.
Handling a Claim
No matter the claim, there has to be proof. All victims must be able to property identify the unfair practice and provide sufficient proof that it was based on race, color, national origin or sex. Proof usually involves statistical evidence, but as the employer, you have the right to challenge a claim. If you’re successful in proving that the charge is unreasonable, then the case will be dismissed. If you’re unsuccessful, however, then the process will get complicated. You would have the burden of defense, which would require that you prove that the action in question was somehow necessary from an operational standpoint. Even still, the employee could counter and claim that you refused to change your practices. In other words, you have to prove necessity and that there was no other way to achieve the same business goal.
For better or for worse, employees usually have the upper hand when it comes to a discrimination dispute. Furthermore, the anti-retaliation provision was expanded in 2009. Not only does it protect the employees who report discrimination, but it also protects any co-worker who is asked to answer questions during an investigation.
Simply put, you can’t treat anyone differently, especially during an EEOC assessment. Employees can sue individually, or the EEOC can sue you directly on their behalf. If the court settles in their favor, you may be ordered to pay back lost wages, benefits and legal fees. Fortunately, Title VII caps compensatory damages at a specific amount, but the amount varies according to the size of each business.
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