Workers now have many challenges at the workplace. But numerous federal laws try to remove employment discrimination as an obstacle to workers.

These law are intended to prevent employment discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, physical disability and age. Employers commit discrimination when they engage in bias when hiring, promoting, assigning, terminating, compensating, retaliating and engaging in other types of harassment.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces most of these laws.

Equal pay

Employers and unions cannot pay different wages based upon an employee’s gender under the Equal Pay Act passed in 1963. It covers employees engaged in some parts of interstate commerce or all the workers of a business that engages in a significant amount of interstate commerce.

Employment discrimination

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination by most employers engaged in interstate commerce who employ over 15 workers, labor organizations and employment agencies. Discrimination based upon race color, religion, gender or national origin is illegal. Gender includes pregnancy, childbirth or related health conditions.

Employers may not engage in discrimination in hiring, discharging, paying or providing employment terms, conditions and privileges.

Under that law, employment agencies are prohibited from discriminating when hiring or referring applicants. Labor organizations may not base membership or union classifications on race, color, religion, gender or national origin.

Age discrimination

Employers cannot engage in age discrimination because of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It prohibits practices like those outlawed in Title VII and covers employees between the ages of 40 to 65. The ADEA contains guidelines for benefit, pension and retirement plans.

The ADEA allows the filing of disparate impact claims where an employer created a plan or scheme that appears to be neutral but discriminates based on a worker’s age. Workers must, according to the US Supreme Court, present proof of discriminatory intent and prove that the practice discriminates.

Employees can also file a private lawsuit against federal employers who retaliated against them for their filing of an earlier age discrimination claim.

Disabilities

The American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. Private employers, state and local governments unions and employment agencies cannot discriminate based upon physical or mental handicaps. The ADA prohibits discrimination more broadly than Title VII.

Other laws 

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed to respond to several Supreme Court decisions that restricted employee rights. The law is intended to remove some of the barriers against workers pursuing discrimination lawsuits. It specifically dealt with race-based retaliation claims concerning previously filed complaints.

The Lilly Leadbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 clarified that a discriminatory compensation decision or other unlawful act occurred each time compensation is paid based upon that illegal decision. It also extended the time that an employee can file a lawsuit.

Other laws include the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Act that prohibits a public employer from denying employment because of military service. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 outlaws discrimination based on genetic information.

The Family and Medical Leave Act gives employees the right to take unpaid time off from work to care for a newborn or recently adopted child or an ill family member.  The Supreme Court, in 2013, also ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to receive federal benefits.

An attorney can help employees hold employers accountable for unlawful discrimination. Legal representation may help assure that a claim can be filed with the EEOC or other government agency or that a private lawsuit may be filed.

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