Discrimination Against Women in the Workplace?

Discrimination against women in the workplace is when an employer treats a female employee less favorably than the employer would a male employee specifically because of the employee's gender.

Examples of discrimination against women in the workplace are when a woman is rejected for employment, when a woman loses a promotion to a less-qualified male employee, or when a woman is harmed in any way because of her gender.

Workplace Discrimination Definition

Workplace discrimination is when an employer treats either a male or female employee differently specifically because of his or her gender. Workplace discrimination is more commonly called gender discrimination or sexual discrimination.

Gender Discrimination Definition

The terms "sex" and "gender" are often used interchangeably in everyday language. But they actually have very different meanings. The term "sex" is based on anatomical identity. Social scientists use it to identify a person as male or female. The term "gender" is a cultural term for the characteristics that are generally associated with maleness or femaleness. Discrimination can be based on sex, gender, or both sex and gender. But no matter which way it is labeled, discrimination is illegal.

Federal Laws Prohibiting Workplace Discrimination

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, and national original. Title VII applies to all private employers, state and local governments, and education institutions that employ 15 or more individuals.

  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law essentially applies the standards of Title VII to the federal government as an employer.

  • Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA prohibits sex-based pay discrimination between men and women who perform under similar working conditions. The EPA applies to all employers covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA, a part of Title VII, prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA prohibits discrimination against pregnant women and parents as well as employees with serious health conditions. In 2008, two new types of FMLA leave were created, which gives job-protected leave for family of the armed services members.

Workplace Discrimination: Promotions

In the past, qualified female employees have often been prevented from advancing to management positions in companies because of their gender. This term often used for this artificial barrier is "glass ceiling." If this is the case, it is considered workplace discrimination against women and protected by Title VII.

Workplace Discrimination: Sexual Harassment

When a person in an authority role asks for sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a workplace benefit, it is called Quid pro quo sexual harassment. Some examples of a workplace benefit include a promotion, an increase in pay, and protection from being laid off.

It is also considered sexual harassment when a male co-worker or authority figure tells inappropriate jokes, makes threats, or exhibits any form of behavior that could intimidate a female employee or affect her ability to work. This type of sexual harassment falls under the label of "Hostile Work Environment."

Workplace Discrimination: Breast-Feeding

Currently, there are no federal laws that protect nursing mothers. But some states have laws that make it illegal to discriminate against breast-feeding women. Some states take it a step further and require employers to give proper facilities for breast-feeding in the workplace.

Workplace Discrimination: Enforcement of the Law

The federal government agency responsible for investigating workplace discrimination complaints in workplaces of 15 or more employees is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In addition to federal laws against discrimination, there are also state laws against discrimination in most states. These states have their own agencies to enforce the laws.

Legal relief for victims of workplace discrimination may include:

  • Reinstatement

  • Back pay

  • Promotion

  • Compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering)

  • Punitive damages (damages to punish the employer)

  • Payment of attorney and expert witness fees

  • Payment of court costs

To reduce the chance that discrimination will occur again, an employer may be legally required to take corrective action against the source of the discrimination and to stop the discriminatory practice involved in the case.

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