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What is sex discrimination under the law?



The primary federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It protects you against many forms of discrimination based on sex, such as unequal pay, unequal treatment in hiring, firing and layoffs, work assignments and conditions, promotions, benefits including disability leave, training, and retirement policies.  You must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) before pursuing a claim under Title VII.


Title VII also prohibits sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . .  when 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.” The harasser’s conduct  must be unwelcome.  For a complete discussion, see http://eeoc.gov/types/sexual_harassment.html


Title VII applies to employers with fifteen or more employees, including private employers, state and local government employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and joint employer‑union apprenticeship programs.  If you work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees, you still may be able to bring a suit under the Equal Pay Act if the issue is unequal pay for the same or substantially equivalent work.  Under the Equal Pay Act, you do not have to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC (as you do with Title VII) before filing a private lawsuit.


You may also be protected by state or city equal employment laws, and some give you more rights and remedies, more time to file a complaint, and more favorable procedures than federal law.  Check with your state and local departments of equal employment for information on the laws in your area. (Note: these agencies may go under a variety of names and vary by state.  Check “equal employment,” “fair employment,”, “workplace protection,” “ human rights,” and the like.)


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Text Box: What is sex discrimination under the law?