Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The following are explanations of these protected classes:

Race: Title VII even protects non-minority racial groups. Typically, companies think of only minority groups as protected classes. Still, as the Supreme Court held in McDonald v. Santa Fe Transportation Company, White employees may sue for discrimination, harassment, or retaliation under Title VII.  In other words, Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, no matter what the race of the employee in question.

Color: There is not much litigation in this area, but the critical thing to note here is that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on color, even when all persons concerned are of the same race.  For instance, it is unlawful for dark-complected persons of one race to discriminate against lighter-complected persons of the same race.

Religion: Religious protection applies even to individuals not affiliated with a “recognized” church or religion. Title VII goes beyond merely prohibiting religious discrimination.  Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs as long as the accommodations do not cause “undue hardship. “

Employers must inquire about an applicant’s availability for work without explicitly asking about religious practices. Suppose an employee indicates they are unavailable for work on a particular day due to a religious practice. In that case, an individual inquiry into whether this individual may reasonably be accommodated with a minimal cost to the employer must be undertaken. If the employer can reasonably accommodate the employee, it should do so. Suppose an employer determines that it cannot make such an accommodation. In that case, the employer should document the specific reasons why such accommodation would be an undue hardship, often including the accommodation cost. Specific guidelines issued by the EEOC regarding religious discrimination are found here.

Sex: Discrimination based on sex can take a few different forms.  It is illegal to refuse to hire, fire, or otherwise take an adverse action against an employee or applicant based on sex.  In addition, Title VII is the law that makes sexual harassment illegal.  Sexual harassment itself can also take a few different forms, most notably “hostile work environment” claims and “quid pro quo” claims.  The EEOC has issued guidelines related to unwelcomed advances, sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct. These guidelines discuss specific prohibitions and can be reviewed here.

The EEOC and federal courts have also interpreted Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on pregnancy. The EEOC’s guidance on pregnancy discrimination can be reviewed here.

Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender/sexual identity.

National origin: Obviously, discriminating against someone because of their known national origin is unlawful under Title VII, but it can also be more subtle than that.  For instance, the EEOC has commented that it is unlawful to take the following into account when making employment decisions: (1) facts that lead to the reasonable conclusion that a person is in some way associated with individuals or groups of a particular national origin; (2) involvement in associations which promote the interest of specific national origin groups: participation in churches, mosques, temples or schools typically associated with persons of a specific national origin; and (3) a specific name or family name that is associated with national origin.

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The information herein is not legal advice. The information is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter discussed.  The above is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.