Gender (Sex) Discrimination Basics

Gender (or sex) discrimination occurs when a person is subjected to different or unequal treatment ("discrimination") in any number of situations, when that treatment is based on the person's gender. To clarify the terms: Sex discrimination refers to discrimination based on the biological differences between male and female, but gender discrimination refers to discrimination based on social behavior such as nonconformance of gender roles including sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. In terms of civil rights law and discrimination, there are essentially the same thing and the terms can be used interchangeably.

Where and When Can Gender Discrimination Occur?

Gender discrimination can take place in many different settings, but typically occurs most often in the following situations:

Employment - Gender discrimination in employment can include claims that a potential employer asked discriminatory questions based on gender during the interview process; claims that an employer failed to hire, failed to promote, or wrongfully terminated an employee based on his or her gender; unequal pay claims; and claims for sexual harassment of employees.

Education - Gender discrimination in education can include claims for exclusion from educational programs or opportunities based on gender and claims for sexual harassment of students.

Housing - Gender discrimination in housing can include claims for refusal to negotiate with a person seeking housing (including sexual orientation discrimination); claims for imposition of different lease/contract terms; and claims for refusal to extend a loan based on the gender of the applicant/tenant/buyer.

Lending / Credit - Gender discrimination in lending/ credit can include claims for refusal to extend credit; claims for imposition of unequal loan terms; and claims arising from improper inquiries during the credit/loan approval process, based on the gender of the applicant.

Laws Prohibiting Gender Discrimination

Most laws guaranteeing and regulating civil rights (including laws relating to gender discrimination) originate at the federal level, through federal legislation (such as the Equal Pay Act). Civil rights have also been defined and interpreted through federal court decisions (such as those handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court). States also pass their own civil rights laws (usually very similar to those at the federal level), and even municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights and gender discrimination. In fact, some of the state laws provide more extensive and broader protection against gender discrimination by extending laws to include sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination.

Gender Discrimination: Sexual Orientation

Although there is no federal protection for sexual orientation discrimination, it can be included under sex discrimination. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) has held that a claim of sexual orientation discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Gender Discrimination: Transgender Status

Similarly to sexual orientation status not being officially recognized under federal law, the same is true for transgender status. Also, the EEOC has held that transgender status discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII.

Get a Lawyer's Help with Your Gender Discrimination Claim

If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation based on your gender, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced civil rights attorney. Important decisions related to your case can be complicated -- including which laws apply to your situation, who may be responsible for any harm you suffered, and how to prove that those responsible acted with an intent to discriminate against you based on your gender.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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