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Title VII's Applications to the Workplace

Updated on October 14, 2009

Title VII | Discrimination | Sexual Harassment

Title VII
This hub explains the scope of Title VII and its applications to the workplace.
It also addresses the following items:
a. The history and evolution of Title VII and its amendments (PDA, ADA, ADEA).
b. The application of Title VII and amendments in the workplace.
c. Who is covered and not covered under Title VII and its amendments.
d. How disparate impact discrimination and disparate treatment discrimination occur under Title VII, and their implications.
e. Policies that companies should have in place to avoid violations of Title VII and its amendments.
f. How the law defines sexual harassment and employers’ responsibilities for addressing employees’ complaints in the work place.

Title VII Discrimination in the Workplace

Though Title VII has given employees a legal course to help confront discrimination, the truth is that discrimination still occurs in workplaces across America. A number of types of discrimination may occur. The types of discrimination prohibited in Title VII are based on individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII is also used in cases of sexual harassment, disparate impact, and disparate treatment. This hub will cover the history and evolution of Title VII, the impact of Title VII in the workplace, who is covered and who is not covered under Title VII and its amendments, and policies that companies should have in place to avoid violations.

History of Title VII and Amendments

Within Title VII are many issues under employee’s rights regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although other titles that were created under this Act. The creation of the legal steps for nondiscrimination in voting, education, public accommodation and federally assisted programs came from the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (Bennett-Alexander and Hartman, 2007). The end of slavery in our country forced a bond development to occur between people who had no social or legal relationship with the rest of the world. Jim Crow laws were developed because of this separation. During this period, the separation of blacks and whites was regulated by this law in every way of life and causing the practice of discrimination. The driving force behind the enactment of Title VII is racial discrimination. Title VII states that "it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” This title also makes it unlawful to "limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin" (Bennett-Alexander and Hartman, 2007).

Title VII Protections against Workplace Discrimination
Title VII gave new rights to minorities and women who were limited to the means of solving job discrimination issues. Title VII created new ventures to eliminate discrimination creating fairness that is expected in employment settings. While efforts to eliminate discrimination and make certain no one is excluded such amendments came after Title VII, adding additional protection from experiencing discrimination in many different areas. For example, amendments to Title VII are discrimination against age and disability. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to employers of 20 or more employees, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intentions are to make society more accessible to people with disabilities (Bennett-Alexander and Hartman, 2007). Title VII has been change and additions been made many times since it was originated but the core existence is to primarily prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin (Bennett-Alexander and Hartman, 2007).

Companies Under Title VII

Any company with more than 15 employees is prohibited from discrimination under Title VII, and any workplace can be taken to court for harassment; in fact, Title VII also makes this discrimination and harassment illegal for state governments, local governments, and educational institutions. Some exceptions may occur in religious educational institutions if a person’s religion is considered a bona fide occupational qualification. Though many understand that Title VII prohibits discrimination against workers because of factors like race, religion, and sex, some do not understand that these protections also help protect employees from being discriminated against for pregnancy, sex stereotyping, and harassment. Three additional amendments have also increased the amount of protection against discrimination for employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 specified procedural requirements specified in Title VII, the Pregnancy Disability Act (PDA) states that discrimination because of pregnancy is the same as discrimination based on sex, and The Civil Rights Act of 1991, among other things, provided for jury trials in certain discrimination cases.

Frequently Litigated Cases of Discrimination
Though Title VII protects employees from a wide variety of discrimination, the most frequently litigated cases are religious and sexual discrimination. Title VII has been used in cases to punish employers for “harassment stemming from either a tangible employment action or a hostile work environment” (Jackson, 2007). This ruling occurred “in 1971, when the Supreme Court held that Title VII prohibits employment practices that have a disparate impact on a protected class” (Jackson, 2007). Still, Title VII does not presently protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, nor does it include protection based on a person’s gender identity. Though attempts to amend Title VII have been made several times over the last 30 years, the current protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is only granted based on the employees “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The first such attempt to add the phrase “affection or sexual preference” was made in 1975 by the Civil Rights Amendments Act of 1975. In essence, Title VII covers and protect many aspects of discrimination but does not protect all forms of discriminatory situations.

Disparate Impact Discrimination
Disparate impact discrimination occurs under Title VII when a member of a protected group (minority, religion, sex) has been excluded from employment because of an employer’s practices such as the use of “written tests, height and weight requirements, educational requirements, and subjective procedures, such as interviews” (Brame, 2009). Initially, the Disparate Impact Theory was seen as an act that would require employers to meet rigorous structuring procedures to avoid any involvement of behavior that disproportionately affected groups protected under Title VII. The burden of proof is often placed on the employer in many of these cases. Recently, the United States Supreme Court proceeded over the case “Ricci vs. DeStefano.” This case involved a group of 18 firefighters (17 whites and 1 Hispanic) who sued the New Haven, Connecticut Fire Department claiming discrimination on the subject of receiving promotions. The passing test scores of the firefighters where invalidated due to the lack of passing scores for black firefighters. The City of New Haven officials believed the test results could potentially initiate a lawsuit by the black monitory firefighters regarding disparate impact. However, the plaintiffs in the case believed they were discriminated against due to being denied promotions because of their race. In this court case, the majority of the courts believed “just because a disproportionate share of whites pass a test does not make the test discriminatory” (Zappe, 2009).

Disparate Treatment Discrimination
Court cases with reference to disparate treatment discrimination are, oftentimes, more difficult to prove. According to Title VII, claims regarding disparate treatment discrimination can be registered when an employer is suspected to have treated employees or candidates belonging to a protected group differently. In comparison of disparate impact, where statistics can show as merit, intent must be proven in disparate treatment cases to be the victor. The 2003 case of Raytheon CO vs. Hernandez entails an employer refusing the re-hiring of an employee with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. The employee submitted character references with his application to illustrate his sobriety, however, the employer states that his employment was denied because of a policy that did not allow for the re-hiring of employee’s terminated for misconduct. The courts ruled in favor of the employer, supportive of an employer’s constitutional rights to have power over the workplace.

Employment Policies to Prevent Discrimination and Harassment
Companies have the right to hire the most qualified candidate or candidates for the job as long they do so without violating any state or federal laws, including, Title VII, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Organizations should have a system of checks and balances to eliminate the practice of discriminatory hiring. Restructuring of the application process is needed; race, religion and sexual preference related questions should be replaced with questions regarding work experience and education. The overall hiring process should remain focused on job-related tasks and inquiries.

Harassment Complaints at Work
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legal definition of sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome physical, visual, or verbal conduct of a sexual nature” (EEOC, 2007). This type of behavior; done explicitly or implicitly can cause a hostile of uncomfortable work environment. The EEOC reports that by the end of fiscal year 1997 there were 15,889 received complaints of sexual harassment; 11.6% of those complaints were filed by male employees. By the end of fiscal year 2008 the number of received complaints were at 13,867; 15.9% of those complaints were male (EEOC, 2007). The reports show that the number of complaints has declined, but the number of males reporting harassment has increased. Although the numbers of males making reports is low, reporting this type of harassment is no longer being considered taboo.

Equal Rights Advocates

Regardless of the gender of the victim, sexual harassment is against the law. The duty of every employer is to protect its employees from any form of sexual harassment. No specific requirements exist for an employee who protection against sexual harassment, however, most companies have a company handbook that points out specific policies. Sexual harassment and other illegal policies are usually mentioned in these handbooks. These handbooks also typically include instructions on how to file complaints with the human resources department. Though an employer may have a policy against sexual harassment, this does not mean that the organization has done everything it can to protect the employees. If a complaint is filed then that employer is obligated to react with some kind of disciplinary action or termination. However, in order for action to be taken against sexual harassment, the employer must know that it has occurred; this why employees must understand the importance of first following the organizations procedures on filing sexual harassment complaints (Equal Rights Advocates, 2008).

Discrimination is an Unfortunate Reality
Discrimination and sexual harassment are an unfortunate reality in the American workplace, but the provisions in Title VII help employees to find justice in the legal system. Employers must be mindful of the things that occur in their organizations, and inform employees of their right to report unacceptable behavior when needed. Discrimination can occur intentionally or unintentionally. Companies should review their human resource policies to make sure that all recruitment practices and company policies are not subtly discriminating or targeting specific types of employees. Companies should also be sure to have a multi-level reporting process so that employees feel comfortable reporting harassment whether it is from a peer or a supervisor. Still, employees should make sure to keep themselves informed of all governing laws and regulations so their workplace rights.

Bennett-Alexander, D, & Hartman, L (2007). Employment law for business. New York,
NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Brame, J. R. (2009). An update on new federal law and regulation affecting your workplace.
Federal Employment Law Insider, Retrieved from
EEOC, (2007). Sexual Harassment Charges. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, Retrieved from
Equal Rights Advocates. (2009). Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment at Work. Retrieved
September 6, 2009, from
Jackson, G (2007). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: A pathfinder. Retrieved from

Title VII


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