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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 because of their gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In terms of civil rights law, gender discrimination and sex discrimination 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 their gender; unequal pay claims; and sexual harassment claims.

Education - Gender discrimination in education can include claims for exclusion from educational programs or opportunities based on gender and sexual harassment claims involving 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, and even municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights and gender discrimination. 

Gender Discrimination: Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is considered sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and is illegal. In other areas such as housing, some state laws provide additional protection against sexual orientation discrimination.

Gender Discrimination: Transgender Status

Gender identity discrimination in employment is also considered illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as recognized in the 2020 Supreme Court Case Bostock v. Clayton County. Similar to sexual orientation discrimination, some states add additional protections for transgender individuals facing discrimination in other areas.

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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