A Basic Guide to Title VII in the Workplace

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Title VII is merely one section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Importantly to employers, Title VII is the section prohibiting workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Original drafts of the Civil Rights Act focused entirely on eliminating racial discrimination. But the Act's final version also contained protections for religion, sex and national origin.



Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Yet employers should remain cautious when reading this requirement. Case law exists counting any number of workers - including student interns, volunteers and even board members - as Title VII employees. Many states also have parallel anti-discrimination laws that could apply to smaller employers. The Tennessee Human Rights Act, for instance, prohibits workplace discrimination and applies to employers with eight or more employees.



Before filing a lawsuit under Title VII, employees must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its state equivalent. In Tennessee, for example, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission also investigates workplace discrimination complaints. Employers who receive notice of pending discrimination charges should fully cooperate with the EEOC or its state equivalent. It is also wise to retain an attorney to help with the EEOC process as information obtained during an investigation could later be used in a lawsuit filed by the employee.



Title VII protects employees in all aspects of their employment, including: hiring and firing; compensation, assignment, or classification; transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall; job advertisements; recruitment; testing; use of company facilities; training and apprenticeship programs; fringe benefits; pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII essentially forbids employers from limiting, segregating, or classifying employees/applicants in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive them of employment opportunities based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.


Additional Protection

In addition to outright discrimination, Title VII also prohibits: harassment (sexual, racial, religious, etc.); retaliation (cannot punish employees for combating discrimination); association discrimination (i.e. "I didn't hire Jane because she is married to a Muslim."). And please remember that making the complaint alone triggers retaliation protection.


Sexual Harassment

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... when ... such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment." Many people think of direct propositions or inappropriate touching when they hear "sexual harassment." But the most common claims arise under allegations of hostile work environments, which can even include continuously offensive language. Title VII does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious.



The contents of this guide are for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. This guide does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If an employer has specific questions regarding the topics discussed herein, that employer should find and contact an attorney with experience in employment matters.

Additional Resources

If you would like any additional information on Title VII or any other federal laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, please visit the EEOC's website at: http://www.eeoc.gov.

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