Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination is a common civil rights violation that involves sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and unequal pay for women who work in the same roles as men. The term "gender" refers to the characteristics associated with being either male or female. It is often used interchangeably with the word "sex," but both words have different meanings.

"Sex" refers to a person's anatomical identity as male or female. In the United States, it is unlawful for companies to treat employees unfairly or subject them to blatant discrimination based on their gender. The term "gender identity" refers to a person's self-identification as male or female, rather than their anatomical sex at birth. For most people, gender identity and anatomical sex align, but for some, they do not.

Understanding Gender Discrimination Laws

Federal laws prohibit discrimination against employees because of their gender, religion, race, color, age, nationality, and disability. Several U.S. laws are in place to protect people from discrimination, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on gender

  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against credit based on gender

  • Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing

Many states also have laws in place prohibiting discrimination based on marital and parental status. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take time off from work to care for a sick family member. In addition, some states have laws protecting breast-feeding or nursing mothers from discrimination in the workplace.

Typically, federal and state courts have said that transsexual people are not protected against gender discrimination under Title VII. The reason is that when Congress passed the law, the term "sex" did not include transsexuals. However, some recent court decisions have decided that Title VII does, in fact, protect transsexuals based on a precedent set during the U.S. Supreme Court Case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs when a person is the victim of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical behaviors. There are two main types of sexual harassment. They are:

1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment: someone in a position of authority, such as a manager, requests sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a benefit or special treatment. Examples of benefits might include a salary increase or a promotion.

2. Hostile work environment: people tell jokes, make threats, or take part in other behaviors that intimidate a person and affect that person's ability to work.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

Discrimination Against Women

Gender discrimination against women happens when they have the qualifications to reach advanced roles in their workplaces but cannot due to the attitudes or bias of people within their company. This invisible barrier is known as the glass ceiling. For example, some companies discriminate against women who are pregnant, are thought to be pregnant, or who plan to become pregnant. This is unlawful under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Based on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, companies must pay equally for equal work, no matter a person's gender. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act helps close the gap between unequal wages for women and men. According to the Act, funds add up each time an employee receives a discriminatory pay check.

When Can Companies Discriminate Against Sex?

Companies can discriminate against sex only in limited circumstances when sex vital to the job, according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. For example, it is not considered sex discrimination for a company to have different uniforms for male and female employees as long as the uniforms are suitable.

When it comes to height, weight, and lifting requirements, companies cannot discriminate based on gender. The rule of thumb is to consider what are the safest and most efficient requirements to do the necessary work tasks. In many cases, these requirements eliminate women and members of some racial and ethnic groups from being able to do the job.

When to File a Gender Discrimination Claims

If you believe you are the victim of workplace discrimination under Title VII, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If the EEOC supports the claim, it may sue on your behalf. If not, the EEOC may issue a "right-to-sue" letter so you can file a complaint or pursue litigation.

The EEOC accepts claims either in person or by mail. Be sure to include your contact information and your employer's contact information, as well as the date of the incident and a description of what took place. The EEOC may ask for more information, schedule interviews with you and your employer, or ask you to attend mediation. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who have filed a claim or taken part in an investigation.

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