What laws protect me from gender discrimination? While many in the United States agree with the ideal of equality of the sexes, that equality does not always manifest in practice. Unfortunately, women are often viewed as weaker, less reliable, and more emotional than their male counterparts even if those stereotypes are inaccurate. Additionally, many women who attempt to be assertive in the workforce are viewed as troublemakers or agitators, while assertive men are often viewed as brave or ambitious (and therefore rewarded with higher pay and promotions).
Fortunately, both federal and state employment discrimination laws make gender discrimination in the workforce illegal. Some laws address specific components of discrimination, where as others more broadly bar workplace discrimination. This article seeks to explain the most important of these laws so that victims of workplace gender discrimination can better understand their rights under the law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The primary federal law that makes workplace gender discrimination illegal is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is often simply referred to as Title VII. Title VII makes it illegal for any employer to take adverse employment action against an employee because of his or her gender. As a result, Title VII makes intentional discrimination on the basis of gender illegal in the employment context. Title VII’s protections do not only apply to women, but they also apply where men are discriminated against for various reasons.
Title VII also applies in situations where an employer does not intend to discriminate, but has in fact discriminated by implementing workplace policies that disadvantage one gender versus another. The classic example of this type of implicit gender discrimination (known as disparate impact discrimination) are workplace tests of strength. As a rule, any employment-related test must be directly related to the work that an employee will perform on the job. Most strength tests are extremely generic and bear no relation whatsoever to the actual duties employees will perform, and as such, many women are often illegally barred from employment on that basis.
Specific Laws Addressing Types of Gender Discrimination
Aside from Title VII’s broad gender workplace discrimination ban, many other laws apply to specific forms of discrimination. For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee because she is pregnant. Additionally, the Equal Pay Act makes it illegal to pay members of one gender less than members of the other for performing equal work under the same employment conditions.
A Brief Note on Gender Discrimination as Related to LGBT Discrimination
Sexual orientation discrimination is an unsettled area of law, and whether employment discrimination laws protect LGBT persons from discrimination depends on where you live. Many believe that federal anti-gender discrimination laws apply to LGBT persons because LGBT identity is an issue of gender. It is expected that the Supreme Court will eventually rule on this issue, but until the matter is settled by the Supreme Court, it is uncertain to what extent anti-gender discrimination law protects LGBT persons.