Discrimination in the Workplace

"Discrimination" means unequal treatment. Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that no person employed or seeking employment by a business with more than 15 employees may be discriminated against due to his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. While there are federal laws concerning discrimination, most states have enacted laws that prohibit it. These laws may have different remedies than the federal laws and may, in certain circumstances be more favorable than the federal laws. There are four major types of employment discrimination, and other types can usually be dealt with in regard to one of them. They are:

Discrimination by Race

From Title VII of The Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of his/her race or color in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination and neutral job policies that disproportionately exclude minorities and that are not job related. Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied because of marriage to or associations with an individual of a different race; membership in or association with ethnic based organizations or groups, or attendance or participation in schools or places of worship generally associated with certain minority groups. Title VII also deals with harrassment on the basis of race and/or color. Harrassment includes the use of ethnic slurs, racial "jokes", offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct. Title VII is also violated where minority employees are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contacts.

An example of race discrimination is Adams vs. City of Chicago, 94 CV 5727, which involves the 1994 sergeants' promotional test prepared for the Chicago Police Department. The plaintiffs were African-American and Hispanic Chicago police officers who contend that the test has a disparate impact and is an unlawful employment practice. They contend that proportionally less minorities were offered promotions, constituting discrimination. The officers are now awaiting an appeal in the Supreme Court of an earlier decision for the City of Chicago.

Sexual Discrimination

Sex discrimination cases may be brought under the two different theories of disparate treatment and disparate impact. A disparate treatment case involves an organization's policy which treats similarly situated employees differently, based on their gender or sexual orientation. In a disparate impact case, an individual must show that the organization's policy, has a disproportionate adverse impact on persons of one's own gender or sexual orientation. The Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) contained in Title VII allows an organization to hire and employ individuals on the basis of their qualifications reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise. Examples are men attendants in a men's lavatory, and women attendants in a women's lavatory.

National Public Radio, NPR, has had trouble with discrimination since the 1980s, when White House reporter Mara Liasson threatened to file a sex-discrimination case against NPR but eventually settled out of court. A 1988 pay-equity study showed that women, even such NPR bright lights as Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts, were consistently paid less than men. In 1995 Katie Davis, then a contract reporter for Morning Edition and the temporary host of Weekend All Things Considered, filed a $1.2 million suit charging that the network failed to promote her to a permanent position and paid her less than men in comparable jobs. That suit was settled too, for an undisclosed amount.

Discrimination by Reason of Age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (also known as the "ADEA") provides that no person shall be discriminated against because of his or her age. If an employer terminates an individual who is older than 40 years of age and there appears to be no valid reason for the termination other than the employee's age, the former employee may have a valid complaint against the employer for age discrimination under this law. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment -- including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Discrimination by Reason of Disability

The American Disabilities Act of 1990 (also known as the "ADA") is intended to remove the barriers preventing qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the employment, transportation, communication, and cultural opportunities available to persons without disabilities. The ADA makes it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate in all employment practices such as recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, lay-off, pay, firing, job assignments, leave, and/or benefits because of an employee's disability.

The ADA defines a disability as:

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:

An employer is required to make an accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer's size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation. An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation, nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.


Produced as part of a class assignment in CS 3604, Department of Computer Science, Group 5: Ryan Wetherill, Brian Jaeger, Scott Mayberry, Steve Thompson, Fall 1997. Edited and modified by J.A.N. Lee, April 1998.