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Sex / Gender Discrimination: Overview

Employment discrimination on the basis of sex has a long history. Sex and gender discrimination have resulted in lower salaries for women and fewer opportunities.

Gender identity discrimination is also a problem. Such discrimination significantly affects transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer people. Cisgender men can also experience sex discrimination in the workplace.

Workplace discrimination can be unequal pay, discriminatory job standards, or failure to promote. No matter what form it takes, many federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.

Sex Discrimination and the Law: Title VII

Federal law protects people from sex discrimination. In particular, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides strong protections against sex discrimination in employment. Title VII makes it illegal for an employer:

"1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to [their] compensation, terms, or privileges of employment, because of such individual'; or 2) to limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise affect [the individual's] status as an employee, because of such individual'"

Title VII also prohibits:

  • Sex discrimination in on-the-job and apprenticeship programs
  • Retaliation against an employee for opposing a discriminatory employment practice
  • Sexually stereotyped advertisements for employment positions

Anti-discrimination laws can protect job applicants and employees from discriminatory practices based on sex and gender.

What Is Sex Discrimination?

Sex-based discrimination is unequal treatment based on sex. Sex-based discrimination happens when an applicant or employee gets treated unfavorably because of that person's:

The treatment must not simply be different for the sexes. For example, an employment policy requiring women and men to use separate restrooms is not sex discrimination. But, some states have passed legislation about gender and employee restrooms.

It is sex discrimination to provide different:

  • Working conditions
  • Salaries
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Layoffs
  • Job assignments
  • Bonus criteria for people of different genders

Pregnancy Discrimination

Workplace discrimination due to pregnancy is prohibited. Pregnancy discrimination is against the law.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws protecting pregnant job applicants and employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and amendments to it by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act) seeks to provide fair employment for pregnant workers.

Workplace Harassment as Sexual Discrimination

Workplace harassment is another form of unlawful discrimination. Sexual harassment can constitute an unlawful employment action. One form of sex discrimination is sexual harassment. People of all genders have the right to secure and perform their jobs free of unwanted demands for romantic or sexual relationships. Harassment can also include unwanted communications or behaviors of a sexual nature that interfere with someone's ability to work.

Employers must grant all genders equal pay and opportunities. They must also remedy any sexual harassment situations known or of which the employer should be aware. This includes harassment of lower-tier employees by a manager or executive. It also includes sexual harassment among coworkers.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

It is illegal for an employer to:

  • Make sexual conduct a condition or term of employment
  • Base employment decisions on such conduct
  • Permit sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance

An employer also can't create:

Lewd comments, unwanted touching, displays of sexual objects or photographs, or offensive cartoons or drawings may constitute sexual harassment when they interfere with a person's work performance. These types of behavior could lead to a cause of action for sexual harassment.

If the behavior continues or is so egregious that it warrants immediate action, discuss this with your human resources department. They can tell you about the internal complaint procedures.

Most employers have complaint procedures for reporting sex discrimination. But these situations can still be difficult for an affected employee to address. You can also seek guidance from an employment lawyer if you need further guidance.

Get Legal Help With Your Sex/Gender Discrimination Claim

Most employers try to follow employment law. When an employer discriminates against an employee based on sex and can't resolve it, sometimes legal action is necessary.

Speaking with an experienced employment law attorney can help. They can give legal advice, explain discrimination charge procedures, or help file a discrimination complaint. If you believe you've been the victim of discrimination, please discuss your matter with a local employment law attorney.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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