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Gender (Sex) Discrimination Basics

Gender (or sex) discrimination occurs when a person is the subject of different or unequal treatment based on:

  1. Gender
  2. Gender identity
  3. Sexual orientation

Gender discrimination and sex discrimination are roughly the same thing. The words are interchangeable for civil rights law purposes. This type of discrimination based on sex is illegal.

Civil rights are fundamental rights and freedoms granted to people by the U.S. Constitution. You have legal protections for your national origin, mental health, marital status, equal work, gender equality, public accommodations, and more. These and some employment laws don't allow discrimination based on race, gender, or other factors.

Where and When Can Gender Discrimination Happen?

Gender discrimination can take place in various settings. It usually occurs in the following situations.


Workplace discrimination based on gender identity, or gender discrimination in employment, can include:

  • A potential employer asked discriminatory questions based on gender during the interview process
  • Gender-based employment decisions like failing to hire or promote
  • Unequal pay
  • Sexual harassment, including by a co-worker
  • Adverse treatment in conditions of employment

An employee or job applicant can bring these employment discrimination claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a local office for civil rights. The EEOC is a federal agency.


Gender discrimination in education can include:

Health Care

Gender discrimination in healthcare can include unequal medical treatment or health services.


Gender discrimination in housing can include:

  • Refusal to negotiate with a person seeking housing, including sexual orientation discrimination
  • Imposing different lease or contract terms
  • Refusing to extend a loan based on the gender of the applicant, tenant, or buyer

Lending and Credit

Gender discrimination in lending and credit can include:

  • Refusal to extend credit
  • Imposition of unequal loan terms
  • Improper gender-based inquiries during the credit/loan approval process

Laws Against Gender Discrimination

Most laws guaranteeing civil rights begin at the federal level. This includes laws relating to gender discrimination. Federal laws offering protection from gender discrimination include:

Civil rights have also been defined and interpreted through federal court decisions. Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court hold the most weight.

States also pass their own civil rights laws and amendments. Cities and counties can enact ordinances and regulations about civil rights and gender discrimination.

Gender Discrimination: Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This type of discrimination is illegal.

In other areas, such as housing, state laws often give more protection against sexual orientation discrimination.

Gender Discrimination: Transgender Status

Gender identity discrimination in employment is also illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This became law after the 2020 Supreme Court Case Bostock v. Clayton County.

Some states add extra protections for transgender people facing discrimination in other areas. This is like sexual orientation discrimination. Still, many states don't offer non-discrimination protection to transgender people.

Get a Lawyer's Help With Your Gender Discrimination Claim

Have you suffered a civil rights violation based on your gender? If so, speaking with an experienced civil rights attorney is a good idea.

An attorney can help decide which discrimination laws apply and who is responsible for any harm you have suffered. Speaking with an attorney to gain additional information can prove invaluable.

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Next Steps

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

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