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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

What is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified in 17 U.S.C. section 2000, was enacted on July 2, 1964 and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in response to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.  In addition to a number of titles in the act that prohibited discrimination in lodging, voter registration and education; the Civil Rights Act also codified Title VII which created rights for individuals to be free from discrimination in employment.  

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as codified, opens by stating that the purpose of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is:

“To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has its main purpose in prohibiting discrimination in employment by employers based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Section 2000e-2 states that it shall be unlawful for an employer” (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

What entities are affected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

This term employer refers to those entities that employ 15 or more individuals for more than 20 weeks out of the calendar year.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also applies to employment agencies, labor organizations and training programs.  

Are there exceptions to compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

In conjunction with the anti-discrimination laws adopted in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are exceptions to the law that you employers may not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  These are called Bona Fide Qualifications, or BFOQs.  An employer is permitted to take employment actions that would otherwise be held as discriminatory and in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, if the decision not to hire, train, promote, etc. is due to a valid employment decision.

The three part test for concluding whether an employment decision, that would otherwise be deemed as discriminatory, is a legitimate employment decision is:  (1) whether there is a direct relationship between the sex of the individual and the ability to perform the job; (2) the bona fide qualification relates directly to the central mission of the employment; and (3) there is no less restrictive reasonable alternative.

In the above mentioned exception an example would be where a woman was denied employment in a factory where the employee was required to lift a heavy amount of weight on a daily basis.  It is a bona fide employment decision that hiring a woman may not be in the best interest of the employer due, not to discrimination based on sex, but on the natural abilities that males have over females in manual labor.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act the provisions of the shall prohibit a school, college or university from failing to hire an individual based solely on their religion when that school, college, or university is owned whole, or in substantial part by a particular religious organization or the curriculum is of a specific religious nature.

In this situation it would not be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for a Catholic church to refuse employment to a Jewish individual in their church funded schools; especially if the employment required the promulgation of the catholic faith.

What discriminatory practices are permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion, sex, race, color or national origin there are some exceptions to the rule that are outlined in section 2000e-2 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

Under this section certain discriminatory policies are permitted when the employment involves federally recognized Native American tribes; religious groups performing work connected with the group’s activities; and bona fide non-profit private membership organizations.  

Originally this list also included the federal government but under the revised Title VII of the Civil Rights Act it is now prohibited to discriminate in federal employment under section 2000e-16.  

In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit promotions, higher wages, and other benefits that go along with a bona fide seniority system.  In all cases, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not require, or permit, preferential treatment based on one’s classification as a protected class.

Throughout the decades since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act there have been a number of other codifications aiming at protecting a wider class of individuals from discrimination in the workplace.  This includes protection from sexual harassment; age discrimination, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; and individuals with disabilities, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  As of 2011 there exists no federal protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, although some states have made their own laws affecting discrimination against such individuals.

Who do I report violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to?

If an individual has a complaint about a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or any other act that prohibits discrimination in employment that person must first file a complaint with the federal government through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is comprised of 5 members who are appointed by the President of the United States.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act with the purpose of investigating claims of discrimination in employment based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin.  Since its inception it has also been delegated the authority to investigate claims of age discrimination as well as discrimination based on perceived intelligence and disability.  In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may also investigate claims of disparaging treatment by employers based on an individual’s reporting, or negative reaction, to discrimination in the workplace.  The EEOC is also charged with the duty to intervene in civil actions based on employment discrimination after they have been filed first with the EEOC.

In most states in the Union there exist state operated organizations that investigate claims of employment discrimination.  These organizations are known as State Fair Employment Practices Agencies, or FEPAs.  All states in the Union have their own FEPAs that work separately from the EEOC except for Arkansas and Mississippi.

You may file a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by going to one of their 53 field offices throughout the United States.  An individual seeking to report discrimination in the workplace may also visit the EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov for further information on where to file, getting a filing application, etc.  Under most situations an individual must file their claim for employment discrimination, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, within 180 days of the date of the discrimination.  This is extended to 300 days in some situations.  If the state where the individual is filing also has a FEPA that recognizes that specific discrimination the statute of limitations may be extended to 300 days.  It is important to contact both the EEOC and the local FEPA to determine what the actual filing deadline is.  If an individual fails to file on time it will bar any future civil suit for employment discrimination.

Case Law 

The case law is riddled with decisions involving Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the court’s interpretation of discrimination laws in the United States.

In Ricci v. Destefano the courts tackled an issue where the plaintiffs, white firemen, sued the local fire department for throwing out an exam that resulted in whites passing in an exceedingly higher proportion to minorities.  The court found that the test did not discriminate either on its face, or in effect.

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear the issue involved sex discrimination in the form of lower wages being paid to a female employee.  In this case the plaintiff, a female employee, had been given lower wages over an extended period of time.  Upon her discovery of the discriminatory treatment she filed suit.  The argument was that the statute of limitations should be tolled for every subsequent act of like discrimination, here the continuing issuance of discriminatory paychecks.  The court found that the 180 day statute of limitations did not get tolled to include past acts of discrimination and the plaintiff could only recover for the difference in pay that occurred over that 180 day period of time.

The case of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway v. White dealt with the issue of retaliation for reporting discriminatory treatment.  The court summed up the holding of the case by stating that “an employee seeking to prove retaliation will only need to show that the employee’s actions would have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge for discrimination.

In discussing sexual harassment allegations the case of Penn State University v. Sulders the court held that “a plaintiff alleging sexual harassment must show that an abusive working environment became so intolerable that resignation qualifies as a fitting response.”

In many discrimination cases the result rests on whether there is actual discrimination based on a protected class or whether that discrimination is incidental.  The issue of gender discrimination has been addressed in a number of cases.  In Wilson v. Delta State University the court discussed the matter of sex discrimination where an employee’s position was eliminated.  The plaintiff argued that the position was eliminated due to his disparaging remarks about how a fellow employee got her job because the employee was having an affair with the school administrator.  The court held that the termination was not a retaliatory measure by the University because “by gaining preferential treatment because one is a paramour of the employer does not discriminate against a specific sex but also effects individuals of the opposite sex and therefore a retaliation suit may not stand.”