Sexual Discrimination

Sexual discrimination (or gender discrimination) is the act of violating the common civil rights of people because of their gender.

Some examples of discrimination are:

  • Offering employment opportunities based on gender.

  • Disproportionate pay for men and women in the workplace.

  • Offering admittance to educational programs based on gender.

Sexual Discrimination: Definition

While the terms "sex" and "gender" are frequently used interchangeably in day-to-day language, they actually have quite different meanings. Social scientists use the term "sex" to identify a person as male or female based on anatomical identity. 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 how it is labeled, discrimination is generally illegal.

Sexual Discrimination: Federal Laws

The following is a list of some of the federal laws relating to gender discrimination:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII — Prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender.

  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act — Prohibits discrimination against credit applicants on the basis of gender.

  • Fair Housing Act — Prohibits discrimination in selling, renting, or financing a house based on gender.

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 — Requires equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender.

  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act — Prohibits discrimination against women who are pregnant, perceived to be pregnant, or who plan to become pregnant.

  • Title IX — Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, added in 1972, requires parity among educational programs with respect to gender.

Sexual Discrimination: Sexual Harassment

Another form of sexual discrimination covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as the following: "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."

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.

The request for sexual favors doesn't even have to be outwardly stated. An implied request can also be considered Quid pro quo sexual harassment.

It is also considered sexual harassment when a co-worker or authority figure exhibits any form of inappropriate behavior that intimidates an individual and affects his or her ability to work. This type of sexual harassment falls under the label of "Hostile Work Environment." Some examples of inappropriate behavior are telling improper jokes and making threat.

Sexual Discrimination: Employment

There has been a long-held belief that qualified female employees have 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 gender discrimination and protected by Title VII.

Sexual Discrimination Exceptions: Employment

Bona fide occupational qualification

There are very few situations where a person's sex is allowed to be used as a qualification for employment. An exception is when a person's sex is considered an essential part of a particular job. Title VII uses the legal term "bona fide occupational qualification" or BFOQ for these exceptions.


Another exception occurs with workplace uniforms. Some employers require that uniforms be worn. Even if the uniforms are different for females than they are for males, as long as they are deemed "suitable," it is not considered discrimination. This is often with accordance with the customs of certain professions.


Safety in the workplace also requires an exception to employment qualification based on sex for certain jobs. There are some jobs that require a person be a certain height or weight, or that a person be able to lift a certain amount of weight. These requirements are necessary for the employee's safety.

While an employer can't legally require that a person be male for these jobs, the height, weight, and lifting requirements tend to disadvantage women because men are generally larger in stature.

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