Job promotion discrimination occurs when a qualified employee fails to be promoted because he or she belongs to a certain disadvantaged group. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that prohibit job promotion discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, and age. State laws may have additional anti-discrimination regulations.

Laws regarding job promotion discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect employees from intentional discrimination in all terms of employment. Employers with 15 or more employees must uphold Title VII and the ADA. Employers with 20 or more employees must uphold the ADEA.

Many states and municipalities have protections against discriminatory practices based on sexual orientation, marital status, and other factors. Your local EEOC office can inform you of your rights under state law.

Protections from job promotion discrimination

Federal law restricts job promotion discrimination in the following areas:

Job requirements. Employers must present the same job requirements to all applicants. The requirements must be job-related and may not disproportionately exclude members of a certain race, sex, religion, national origin, or age bracket, or people with physical or mental disabilities.

Job assignment and classification. Employers may not exclude an employee from consideration for a particular position nor assign an employee to a certain position based race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability.

False assumptions or stereotypes. Employers may not base promotion decisions on racial, sexual, ethnic, or age-related stereotypes nor on false assumptions about what a person with a medical condition can and can't do.

Seniority accrual. An employee on pregnancy leave must be treated the same way as an employee who takes leave for other health reasons (e.g., heart surgery). If disability leave counts towards seniority accrual, it must count in all cases.

Filing a charge of job promotion discrimination

You may file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you believe you failed to be promoted due to discrimination. A charge must be filed within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation or within 300 days if the charge is also covered by a state anti-discrimination law. For best results, charges should be filed as soon as possible. There is no cost to file.

You must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC prior to pursuing a private lawsuit. Although you don't need a lawyer to file a charge with the EEOC, you may want to seek legal advice prior to going to court.

Additional resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Discrimination By Type-Facts and Guidance (section of home page)

Workplace Fairness: Discrimination