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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: One of MLK's great successes

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let's take a look at one of the achievements of the civil rights leader and all those who stood with him: The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Since this is an employment law blog, we'll focus on Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace, but the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate in other important areas, including when voting; at hotels, restaurants and theaters; in public facilities; in public schools and more.

Title VII prohibits both intentional and unintentional discrimination

Title VII was meant to end the employment discrimination that was keeping African Americans and others in poverty. To reach that goal, it outlawed both intentional discrimination and employment practices that, while not intentionally discriminatory, create a discriminatory result. This is called "disparate impact" discrimination.

To the surprise of many people, Title VII doesn't prohibit all discrimination at work. Instead, the law protects specific groups who have been targeted for discrimination in the past. These "protected groups" are defined by race, color, national origin, religion or sex (including pregnancy and gender identity).

Other groups have gained protection through other federal laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and state laws.

The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment

Under this landmark law, it is illegal to discriminate against a member of a protected group in any aspect of employment, including:

  • Hiring, including job ads and recruitment programs
  • Training or apprenticeship programs
  • Testing
  • Employee classification, compensation, leave or benefits
  • Assignments, promotions, transfers, termination, layoffs or recalls
  • Other terms or conditions of employment

In addition, Title VII specifically prohibits behavior that may not seem overtly discriminatory but which serves a discriminatory agenda, such as:

  • Retaliation against someone for considering or filing a discrimination complaint
  • Harassment targeting race, color, national origin religion, sex, gender identity or pregnancy
  • Refusal to accommodate sincerely held religious practices that pose no undue burden on the
  • business
  • Employment decisions (anything from hiring to retirement) based on stereotypes
  • Denial of a job opportunity to someone due to their association with members of protected groups

Discrimination complaints under Title VII can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Before you go to the EEOC, however, it is advisable to consult an attorney to ensure your rights and best case are protected.

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