Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VII protects people from employers’ discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. While Title VII only applies to businesses of 15 employees or more, it was crucial legislation for equal opportunity employment. Unfortunately, Title VII has been enacted for nearly 50 years and its stipulations are still not upheld by all employers.
Previous to Civil Rights Act, employers were able to discriminate against potential employees for any reason. The segregation of the workforce was not only divided between “white jobs” and “black jobs,” women were excluded in many sectors. Higher paying jobs were almost exclusively performed by white men, and blue collar jobs were occupied predominantly by racial minorities.
Following the legislation outlawing employer discrimination, many employment standards were erased. For example, there were height regulations on being a police officer that excluded almost all women. In an effort to abide by the Civil Rights Act, law enforcement officials did away with the height requirement. Similar accommodations were made in all sectors of the workforce.
Title VII allows employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin under certain circumstances when such characteristics are considered a “bona fide occupational requirement,” or a BFOQ. The circumstances surrounding BFOQs require that the characteristic be necessary in order for an employee to perform the job satisfactorily. For example, when a director is casting an actor for the role of a Cuban general, they may discriminate based on a person’s nation of origin.
Situations when BFOQs apply are rare and the requirements surrounding their legality are very strict.
Filing a Complaint
If you have experienced workplace discrimination, there are several options for a course of action. Under Title VII, you can file a complaint with your state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). You must file a complaint at one of these agencies within 180 days of suspected discrimination in order for it to be valid. These agencies will take up a lawsuit against the employer on your behalf if you do not want to hire a personal attorney.