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Federal Employment Discrimination Laws

Seeking and retaining employment is crucial to taking care of one's basic needs. But since discrimination unfairly jeopardizes people's opportunities, federal laws prohibit treating employees differently on the basis of race or other such personal characteristics. These laws prohibit discrimination in virtually all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces many of these laws, while some state laws also address employment discrimination and sometimes extend these protections to LGBTQ employees and other categories.

Below are summaries of various federal anti-discrimination laws that protect U.S. employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees or job applicants who are at least 40 years old. The act does not apply to independent contractors. ADEA applies to:

  • The federal goernment
  • State and local government
  • Private employers with at least 20 employees
  • Employment agencies

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against employees with a physical or mental disability. It's illegal for employers with at least 15 employees to discriminate against or harass a disabled employee on the basis of a disability, whether real or perceived. ADA does not apply to independent contractors, federal employees, or job applicants; but Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a law that is equivalent to ADA, applies to federal employees and federal job applicants.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII (Equal Employment Opportunities) prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating against or harassing an employee on the basis of:

  • Race or color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National Origin

These anti-discrimination protections are relatively broad. For example, an act of discrimination based on race or color, religion, or national origin can also occur when a person is treated unfairly because they are married to (or associated with) a person in one of those protected classes. Also, the victim and offender of a discriminatory act can be members of the same protected class. For instance, a 55-year-old manager who discriminates against employees over the age of 40 can still be sued for violating the ADEA. Also, sex discrimination may include protection against sexual orientation and sexual identity discrimination, although this is an unsettled area of the law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Intentional Employment Discrimination) was enacted to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act strengthened civil rights protection by providing employees the right to sue for monetary damages in intentional discrimination cases. An example of intentional discrimination would be a restaurant that has a policy of only hiring white workers for front of the house positions. The act also contains clarifying provisions regarding disparate impact actions.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) requires employers to pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of gender. EPA was enacted to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The EPA prohibits gender-based wage discrimination and requires that employees who exhibit the same skills, effort, and responsibilities under similar working conditions be paid the same wages and benefits.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows covered employees to take unpaid time off for the birth of a child, a child's placement or adoption, or to care for a sick family member. There are certain rights and responsibilities under the FMLA, but the law allows employees to return to work without suffering unduly (or being discriminated against) because they have a serious health condition or disability. Generally, covered employees may not be terminated, demoted, or otherwise treated adversely for taking valid FMLA leave.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy (either real or perceived). The act protects pregnant women or those women intending to become pregnant in employment with regard to hiring and wrongful termination.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) forbids employer discrimination on the basis of genetic information. GINA prohibits genetic information discrimination by restricting employers from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information and strictly limits genetic information disclosure. For instance, an employer may not require or request a genetic screening as a condition of receiving subsidized medical benefits.

Talk to an Attorney Now About Your Employment Discrimination Claim

Have you been treated unfairly at work due to your race, gender, or religion? Were you denied a promotion because you have a disability? If you think that you have suffered an act of employment discrimination, then talk to attorney with experience in discrimination issues who can help you determine whether you have a valid claim.

Next Steps

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

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