School employment discrimination is the unfair treatment of an employee within the public or private school system based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, or age. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal laws that prohibit discrimination in school employment practices. States may have additional anti-discrimination regulations.

School employment discrimination and the law

Several federal laws prohibit employment discrimination in schools. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect employees from discriminatory employment practices. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) prevents wage discrimination between men and women who do equal work at the same establishment. Both employees and applicants are covered by these laws.

Public school districts as well as private schools with 15 or more employees must uphold Title VII and the ADA. Public and private schools with 20 or more employees must uphold the ADEA. Virtually all employers must uphold the EPA.

Many states and municipalities offer protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, status as a parent, marital status, and political affiliation. Your local EEOC office can inform you of your rights under state law.

Protections from school employment discrimination

Federal laws make it illegal to discriminate in any aspect of school employment, including:

  • Hiring and firing

  • Pay, retirement plans, disability leave, or fringe benefits

  • Transfer, promotion, discipline, or layoff

  • Assignment or classification

  • Job advertising and recruitment

  • Testing, training, and apprenticeship programs

  • Use of the school's facilities

Other illegal discriminatory practices include harassment and retaliation against an employee for opposing discriminatory behavior. The laws also prohibit employers from making decisions based on stereotypes or from discriminating against individuals married to or otherwise associated with people of a certain group.

Employees must be able to perform a job's essential duties to be eligible for protection under the laws. Employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations (e.g., ramps for a disabled employee) to enable an employee to do his or her job.

Filing a charge of school employment discrimination

You may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC at no cost. Charges should be filed within 180 days of the incident, or within 300 days of the incident if a state or local law applies. For charges involving EPA violations, there are no set time limits. For best results in all cases, charges should be filed as soon as possible.

Charges must be filed with the EEOC before you pursue a private lawsuit (except for EPA violations). Although you don't need a lawyer to file a charge with the EEOC, it's a good idea to seek legal counsel before going to court.

Additional resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination-Questions and Answers

Workplace Fairness: Discrimination