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Gender discrimination, also known as sexual discrimination, is any action that specifically denies
opportunities, privileges, or rewards to a person (or a group) because of gender. The practices of letting
a person’s gender become a factor when deciding who receives a job or a promotion is gender
discrimination. When gender is a factor in other decisions about employment opportunities or benefits
that too is gender discrimination. While most discrimination charges claim that a woman (or women)
was discriminated against in favor of a man (or men), there have also been cases where males have
claimed that they have been discriminated against on the basis of gender. These cases are usually
referred to as "reverse discrimination.”
Court rulings handed down through the years have determined that a company's responsibility not to
discriminate based on sex begins even before an individual is hired. Companies can be held liable if preemployment screening or testing is determined to be discriminatory, if applications ask unacceptable
questions designed to screen for sex, or if the overall selection process is deemed to be unfair. One of
the main indicators that gender discrimination has occurred in the hiring process involves the
qualifications of the job applicants. While a slight difference in qualifications between a female and a
male candidate does not automatically indicate gender bias (if a lesser qualified male candidate is hired
instead of a female candidate, that is), a drastic difference in qualifications has almost always been
upheld by the courts as a sure sign of gender discrimination. For example, if a male who dropped out of
high school without receiving a diploma is hired in an administrative position over a female who had
obtained her master's degree, then it is likely bias was a factor.
In addition to gender discrimination in hiring and other circumstances, there is a particular form of
sexual discrimination called sexual harassment. This form of discrimination involves inappropriate words
or actions of a sexual nature directed at one employee by another. To meet the criteria for harassment,
the behavior in question must be both unwanted and sexual in nature. The U.S. legal system has
determined that there are two main types of sexual harassment, the first being "quid pro quo," or "this
for that," which occurs when one employee offers another employee a job or benefit in exchange for
sexual favors, or threatens to deny that job or benefit unless sexual favors are granted. The second type
of sexual harassment is referred to as "hostile work environment." In these types of cases, an employee,
or a group of employees, repeatedly make lewd comments or suggestive noises, make unwanted sexual
advances, or otherwise use sex to create a work environment that is intimidating or threatening to
Since the social unrest of the 1960s, the federal government has been actively involved in preventing
gender discrimination in the workplace. One of the most important laws covering gender discrimination
on the job is the Civil Rights Act of 1964—specifically, Title VII of that act, which strictly prohibits all
forms of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in all aspects of
employment. Written during a tumultuous period in American history when many people expected the
federal government to right social wrongs, the law was a monumental piece of legislation that changed
the American employment landscape.
The law was passed after heated debate in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It stated
that it was unlawful for an employer to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise
discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges or
employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." The law covers
hiring, dismissals, compensation, and all other aspects of employment, while also covering actual
employment opportunities that are available. Examples of gender discrimination or sexual harassment
that would fall under the scope of the act include:
1. An employee who alleges that his or her manager only promotes male employees and keeps
females in entry-level positions.
2. An employee who alleges that a manager or other person in power tells jokes or makes
statements that are demeaning, insulting, or offensive to women.
3. A manager who makes it clear, either through his actions or words, that he wants to have sexual
relations with a female employee.
4. A manager who asks inappropriate and unnecessary questions about a female employee's sex
5. A manager who touches his female employees in inappropriate ways without consent.
The law covers business with 15 or more employees, and applies to all private, federal, state, and local
employers. In many states, businesses with fewer than 15 employees face the same rules thanks to local
or state statutes. In addition to the hiring provisions, the law dictates that employers cannot limit or
segregate employees based on sex in any way that would adversely affect their chances at promotions.
It does allow for two narrow exceptions to the law—businesses may use a "bona fide" seniority or merit
system to measure performance and earnings based on a quantity or quality measuring system, and
employers may use ability tests to determine the most qualified candidates for a job as long as the test
does not discriminate by gender in any way.
The Civil Rights Act was originally intended to address only racial discrimination. Just as the law was
about to be passed, however, Representative Howard Smith of Virginia added the word "sex" to one of
the opening sentences, meaning the law would also prevent sexual discrimination. This was a
controversial action, as many people actually saw it as an attempt to kill the bill. The argument made by
critics was that Smith added the word sex to the law knowing that many people would oppose the
addition and the bill would be defeated, thus preventing racial protection from occurring as well. Smith
denied this accusation and swore he had added the provision after working with the National Women's
Party. Whatever his motivation, thanks to the efforts of Representative Martha Griffiths and others, the
revised bill was passed into law.
One year before the landmark civil rights legislation act was passed, one specific problem regarding
gender discrimination had also been addressed by the U.S. Congress. Until 1963, it was legal for
employers to pay women lower wages for the same job performed by men. During World War II, when
many women worked at jobs traditionally held by men while the men fought in the war, there had been
an attempt by the National War Labor Board to get companies to pay women the same rate as men, but
that attempt failed miserably. In fact, most of the women lost their jobs when the men came home from
the war.
Before 1963, newspapers routinely ran separate Help Wanted sections in the classifieds—one for men,
and one for women. It was not uncommon for the same job to be posted in both sections, but with
different—and much lower—pay scales for women. In 1963, women earned 59 percent of what men
earned for the same job, or for every dollar a man earned, a woman earned 59 cents.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was intended to end that discrepancy. The law stated that "no employer '¦
shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between
employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than
the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work
on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are
performed under similar working conditions." The only exemptions to the law were for seniority,
established merit systems that paid all employees based on job performance, systems that paid wages
based on the quantity or quality of the work produced, and wage differences that were based on some
factor other than sex.
While the law did not put an end to unequal pay, it did improve things in many cases. Between 1964,
when the law went into effect, and 1971, more than $26 million in back pay was issued to women as a
result of court cases filed after the law was passed. Two cases that made their way through the U.S.
court system—Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co. (1970) and Corning Glass Works v. Brennan (1974)—
modified the 1963 law by eliminating common loopholes. The ruling in the Schultz case said that jobs
only had to be "substantially equal" rather than identical to earn protection under the law. In the
Corning Glass case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that companies could not pay women a lower wage
than men simply because there was a "lower going rate" for female employees in the local marketplace.
The court ruled that the only reason such a lower rate existed was because male employees would
refuse to work for the lower rate that was offered to women.
The Equal Pay Act officially gives women protection under the law in regards to equal pay for equal
work, but inequities still exist in almost every employment sector. According to the U.S. Census Bureau,
women working full-time in 2004 still earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Some
employers still resist the need to pay men and women equally for equal work. Some even go so far as to
change job titles or employment requirements just to find a way to make jobs seem different enough to
justify paying women less than men. Consequently, courts are starting to use a "comparable worth" test
to determine if two jobs merit the same amount of pay instead of relying on the description of the exact
tasks performed on a job. There is hope that the situation will continue to improve, as it has slowly for
the last 40 years.
Above and beyond standard sexual discrimination, sexual harassment has been the centerpiece of
numerous court cases and legal decisions that have established government standards regarding
harassment. In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court made two important rulings that have had a significant
effect on harassment claims. In Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, the court ruled that, even if an
employee did not report incidents of alleged harassment when they occurred, the company was still
liable for the behavior of the employee who committed the sexual acts. In Faragher v. City of Boca
Raton, the court held that an employer could be held liable for harassment if a supervisor made threats
regarding punishment if an employee did not have sex with him, even if those threats were never
carried out. Together, the two decisions made it clear that the court holds companies strictly liable for
actions carried out by supervisors who have direct authority over the person they are harassing, if the
supervisor can alter the victim's employment status through hiring, firing, refusal to promote, etc.
To oversee the federal civil rights legislation, including the Equal Pay Act, a separate administrative body
was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or
EEOC, was created to enforce laws that prevent discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion,
national origin, disability, or age when hiring, firing, or promoting employees. Four groups—race, color,
sex, and creed—were given "protected status" under the law, which was to be upheld by the EEOC. The
commission is an independent regulatory body that has the power to launch investigations, file lawsuits,
and create programs to eliminate discrimination.
The EEOC has been a controversial organization throughout its nearly 40-year history. Liberal politicians
believe that the agency was long overdue and that it is absolutely imperative that it be proactive in
identifying and fighting discrimination in the courts, while conservatives believe that the organization is
a perfect example of "big government" that intrudes far too deeply into citizens' lives. The agency's
strong enforcement of affirmative action policies (which actively seek to promote minorities over
equally qualified non-minorities in order to address past discrimination) has been its most controversial
action, as many Americans oppose affirmative action.
To prevent gender discrimination or sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace, more and more
employers are adopting a zero tolerance policy towards all acts of discrimination. This usually includes
the creation of an official written policy against discrimination that is circulated to all employees, as well
as education and training courses for all managers (and often for all employees). In addition, the
companies have to show that they are serious about implementing and enforcing the new policy by
creating disciplinary standards for violations of the policy.
Another step employers can take is to conduct a thorough investigation every time a claim of
discrimination or harassment is lodged. If a company identifies a situation where it believes
discrimination has occurred and the company is going to be held liable, it can ease the amount of
punishment handed down if it conducts a thorough in-house investigation that culminates in
appropriate action taken against the person who committed the discrimination, up to and including
dismissal of that employee.
When managers are trained to recognize instances of sexual discrimination or harassment, they should
be told one thing above all others—not to try to handle the complaint by themselves. Instead, they
should always immediately notify the human resources department that an incidence of discrimination
or harassment has been reported and needs to be investigated. If the training is also provided to all
employees, primary efforts should be spent on teaching employees what is and is not considered to be
appropriate behavior and on helping employees understand each other better so that they can work
together more effectively.
While many cases of sexual discrimination or harassment involve men victimizing women, there is a new
backlash that has seen allegations of reverse sexual discrimination. A male cosmetics counter employee
at a Dillard's department store in Florida became angry when his suit was stained by the make-up he
was selling. When he asked the store for a uniform of some sort, which the female employees who
worked at the make-up counter at another store in the same mall wore, he was ignored by store
management. The man also alleged that he was passed over for promotions and was ineligible to win
store sales contests because all of the prizes were for women. The employee filed a sexual
discrimination claim with the EEOC and later filed a lawsuit against the store.
In another case, a male employee of Vision Quest National in Philadelphia filed a lawsuit alleging sexual
discrimination when he was fired after complaining that he had to work nights for the company while
women did not. The company had instituted a policy saying women did not have to work the night shift
because the company was in a high-crime area; several female employees had threatened to quit if
forced to work nights. The company claimed the policy was a bona fide occupational qualification (which
is one of the EEOC's exemptions in discrimination cases), but the courts ruled that this was not the case
and sided with the male employee.
In addition to reverse discrimination cases, there have also been recent instances of same-sex
discrimination cases. While the EEOC holds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does protect against
same-sex discrimination, the courts have been reluctant to rule on the matter. In 1998, however, the
U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling of a lower court and in so doing held that same-sex
discrimination was in fact covered by Title VII because the law referred to sex in every context.
Discrimination against employees on the basis of gender (as well as race, national origin, age, and/or
disability) is wrong. It may also be very costly. Charges of employment discrimination that are
successfully brought before the EEOC are usually resolved, in part, by issuing the plaintiff a monetary
award. The trend towards larger awards has been steady and although it is unclear whether that trend
will continue, some people clearly believe that it will. As a result, a new form of commercial liability
insurance emerged in the late 1990s in answer to the rising costs associated with employment
discrimination actions. It is called Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) and it may one day be
a standard policy within commercial insurance packages.
Avoiding the need for such an insurance policy is, of course, preferable. Establishing serious policies to
prevent discrimination is essential. Making these efforts visible and apparent to all will help to create a
work environment free of discrimination or at least one in which discriminatory acts are brought to the
attention of management right away.
Sex or gender discrimination in employment involves treating someone unfavorably because of
the person’s sex, whether they are applying for a job or are a current employee. Although
women have made clear they have the ability to perform with the same skill and success in
every endeavor engaged in by men, the issue of sex discrimination still holds many back. Sex
discrimination, although predominantly an issue for women, can sometimes be directed towards
men as well.
1. What is sex or gender discrimination?
Sex or gender discrimination is treating individuals differently in their employment specifically because an
individual is a woman or a man. If you have been rejected for employment, fired, or otherwise harmed in
employment because of your sex or gender, then you may have suffered sex or gender discrimination.
In everyday language as well as in the law, the terms “gender” and “sex” are used inter-changeably, but
the two terms have different meanings. Social scientists use the term “sex” to refer to a person's
biological or anatomical identity as male or female, while reserving the term “gender” for the collection of
characteristics that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness. Discrimination is generally
illegal regardless of whether it is based on sex, or gender, or both sex and gender.
Here are some examples of potentially unlawful sex/gender discrimination that women, for example, may
Hiring/Firing/Promotions: You apply for a job for which you have experience and excellent
qualifications, but you are not hired because some of the company's long-time clients are more
comfortable dealing with men; you are told that you are laid off due to company cutbacks and
reorganization, while men in the same job and with less seniority than you keep their jobs; you have
worked for your company for several years, receiving exemplary reviews and an employee-of-theyear award, yet each of the five times you have applied for promotions, the positions you applied for
are instead filled by less qualified men.
Pay: You worked your way up from the position of cook's helper to chef. A male chef with similar
training and work experience was recently hired, and you find out that he will be paid more than you;
you are a top salesperson for your company, but are moved to a less desirable territory while a man
with much lower sales is given your territory and client base, enabling him to make much more in
commissions than you will make for several years.
Job Classification: You work at a company for four years and put in many hours of overtime. After
you return from having a baby, you tell your employer that you will not be able to put in as many
hours of overtime. Your position is then changed to a lower level and you get less pay, while male
coworkers in similar positions are allowed to cut back their overtime hours for personal reasons
without any changes to their positions or pay.
Benefits: Your company's health insurance policy does not cover your spouse, because it is
assumed that he will have his own benefits, while your male coworkers have their wives covered by
the policy. Because your husband is between jobs, you have to pay increased health benefits on his
behalf that your coworkers do not pay for their wives.
If any of these things have happened to you on the job, you may have suffered sex or gender
discrimination. Sex or gender discrimination may be accompanied by other forms of illegal discrimination
as well, such as age, race, or disability discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination and sexual
harassment are also considered forms of sex discrimination under the law.
2. Which federal law covers sex or gender discrimination?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that protects individuals from discrimination based
upon sex. This law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals in hiring, firing, and
other terms and conditions of employment, such as promotions, raises, and other job opportunities
because of their sex.
The laws of most states also make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. For more information,
see question 19 below.
Additionally, there are specific laws protecting employees of federal contractors from sex or gender
discrimination. Executive Order 11246 forbids federal contractors who do over $10,000 in government
business per year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex,
sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. Additionally, Executive Order 13665 protects
employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on compensation inquiries, discussions, or
disclosures. For more information of protections specific to employees of federal contractors see
our federal contractors page.
The U.S. Department of Labor is publishing new sex discrimination regulations that update the
department’s interpretation of Executive Order 11246. The final rule updates OFCCP’s sex discrimination
regulations making them more consistent with the current law. Explicit protections against compensation
discrimination, sexually hostile work environments, discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or
related medical conditions, and discrimination against unlawful sex stereotypes, gender identity, and
transgender status are made in the new rule. This new rule further enforces Section 503 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973. And the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. These
laws make it illegal for contractors and subcontractors doing businesses with the federal government to
discriminate in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,
national origin, disability, or status as a veteran. They are also prohibited from discriminating based on
the disclosure or discussion of compensation with other employees. This rule will appear in an upcoming
edition of the Federal Register. Please check back to find when the final rule has been published and
when it becomes a law.
3. Who is covered by the law?
Title VII covers all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions that
employ 15 or more individuals. These laws also cover private and public employment agencies, labor
organizations, and joint labor management committees controlling apprenticeship and training.
Many states also make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. For more information, please see our
page on the minimum number of employees needed to file a claim under your state law.
The law's protections apply to both current workers and job applicants. If you are a current employee and
are fired, not promoted, or not accommodated due to your sex or gender, you are protected. If you are not
hired due to your sex or gender, you are also protected.
4. Can an employer pay me less because I'm a woman? Can I
be paid less because I'm a man?
No. Both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act (EPA)
make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in the
payment of wages or benefits. The laws against discrimination in compensation cover all forms of
compensation, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life
insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations,
reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits.
The EPA requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment.
The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. It is the content of the job, not job
titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal. Unlike the EPA, Title VII does not require that
the job of the person claiming discrimination be substantially equal to that of a higher paid person of the
other sex, nor does Title VII require the person claiming discrimination to work in the same establishment
as the higher paid person. However, Title VII, unlike the EPA, requires proof of intent to discriminate on
the basis of sex, while the EPA does not require proof of discriminatory intent.
Under the EPA, employers are prohibited from paying unequal wages to men and women who perform
jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar
working conditions within the same establishment. The law defines these terms as follows:
skill: measured by factors such as the experience, ability, education, and training required to
perform the job. The key issue is what skills are required for the job, not what skills the individual
employees may have.
effort: the amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform the job.
responsibility: the degree of accountability required in performing the job.
working conditions: encompasses two factors: (1) physical surroundings like temperature, fumes,
and ventilation, and (2) hazards.
Note that:
Employers may not reduce wages of either sex to equalize pay between men and women.
A violation of the EPA may occur where a different wage is or was paid to a person who worked in
the same job before or after an employee of the opposite sex.
While there are some differences between Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, the federal laws are enforced
by the same administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
5. Is it illegal to give different benefits to male and female
Yes. As discussed above, even though differences between the sexes may result in different benefit costs
to an employer, it is against the law for an employer to discriminate between men and women with regard
to benefits.
Employers are also not allowed to condition benefits available to employees and their spouses and
families on whether the employee is the “head of the household'” or “principal wage earner” in the family
unit, since that status bears no relationship to job performance and discriminatorily affects the rights of
women employees.
An employer cannot make benefits available:
for the wives and families of male employees where the same benefits are not made available for
the husbands and families of female employees;
for the wives of male employees which are not made available for female employees; or
for the husbands of female employees which are not made available for male employees.
It is also against the law for an employer to have a pension or retirement plan which establishes different
optional or compulsory retirement ages based on sex, or which differentiates in benefits on the basis of
6. Can an employer treat me differently because I can or have
become pregnant?
No. Pregnancy discrimination, defined as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related
conditions, is illegal under Title VII. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination
Act (PDA)
amending Title VII to clarify that discrimination based on pregnancy is a form of sex
Under the law, pregnancy is considered a temporary disability, as are related medical conditions such as
severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and any other
related medical condition. Title VII prohibits employers from treating pregnant women differently from
other temporarily sick, injured or disabled employees. Employers must therefore give pregnant
employees and temporarily physically disabled new mothers the same treatment and benefits that they
give to employees with other temporary disabilities.
7. Can an employer treat me differently because I am
unmarried or married?
Marital status discrimination is not prohibited by the federal laws generally applicable to private
employment, which prohibit discrimination based on race and color, sex, religion, national
origin, age and disability. However, several states have laws making it illegal to discriminate on the basis
of marital status.
However, marital status discrimination and sex/gender discrimination can often coexist. If, for example, as
a married woman you are rejected for a position involving frequent overnight trips with male coworkers
because it is assumed your husband would be jealous, and the position is offered to a married man, the
problem may be sex/gender discrimination instead of marital status discrimination. It is illegal for your
employer to make assumptions based on gender stereotypes, even if those assumptions are motivated in
part by your marital status. For more information, see our page on family responsibilities discrimination.
8. Can an employer treat me differently because I have kids or
have to care for a family member?
Parental status discrimination is not prohibited by the federal laws generally applicable to private
employment, which prohibit discrimination based on race and color, sex, religion, national
origin, age and disability. However, several states have laws making it illegal to discriminate on the basis
of parental status.
However, parental status discrimination and sex/gender discrimination can often coexist. If a woman with
young children, for example, is rejected for a position involving frequent travel and overtime work because
it is assumed that she should or will want to spend time with your children, and the position is offered to a
man with small children, the problem may be sex/gender discrimination instead of parental status
discrimination. It is illegal for your employer to make assumptions based on gender stereotypes, even if
those assumptions are motivated in part by your parental status. For more information, see our page
on family responsibilities discrimination.
If you need leave from work to care for a newborn or a sick child or family member, you may also be
protected by the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For more information, see our page on family
9. What's the difference between sex discrimination and
sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Although Title VII does not specifically use the words “sexual harassment,” courts have held that sexual
harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination. While the laws of some states specifically use the
words “sexual harassment,” other states have followed the legal developments under federal law by
determining that sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual
nature are all types of sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or
implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work
performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. For more information, see
our page on sexual harassment.
As noted throughout this page, there are other forms of discrimination on the basis of sex that are not
sexual harassment, such as discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions or benefits, pay discrimination, and
gender stereotyping. In addition, it is possible to have illegal, sex-based harassment that is not of a
sexual nature, sometimes called gender-based harassment. An example of this would be a supervisor
who makes frequent derogatory comments about women and constantly refers to female employees as
“girls” or “bitches.”
10. Is sex ever a qualification for a certain job?
Only in very limited situations. Title VII makes an exception to prohibiting sex discrimination when sex is
an essential part of a particular job – also known by the legal term “bona fide occupational qualification” or
BFOQ. For example, if a company needs an actor to play a female role or a “wet nurse,” then being a
woman is a BFOQ for those positions.
The BFOQ exception as to sex has been interpreted very narrowly. Jobs that are considered “men's jobs”
or “women's jobs” tend to unnecessarily deny employment opportunities to one sex or the other.
Therefore, in the following situations, the BFOQ concept will not apply:
The refusal to hire a woman because of her sex based on assumptions of the comparative
employment characteristics of women in general. For example, the assumption that the turnover
rate among women is higher than among men.
The refusal to hire an individual based on stereotyped characterizations of the sexes. Individuals
should be considered on the basis of individual capacities and not on the basis of any
characteristics generally attributed to the group. Such stereotypes include, for example, that men
are less capable of assembling intricate equipment, or that women are less capable of aggressive
The refusal to hire an individual because of the preferences of coworkers, the employer, clients or
customers except where it is necessary for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness, such as
hiring an actor or actress.
11. My company has an affirmative action plan. How can this
affect me?
Affirmative action goals and timetables are targets for equality, parity and a level playing field. Like goals
for profits or productivity, they mark and measure progress, but do not carry legal penalties. Quotas are
illegal unless court-ordered to rectify discrimination. Your company's affirmative action plan may be
voluntary or may be required by law, if your company has contracts with federal, state or local
The only Supreme Court case dealing with affirmative action for women
recognized that evaluations
that were supposedly merit-based may still reflect biases. The justices upheld an affirmative action plan
that promoted a woman over a man with slightly higher score. The scores in question were based on
interviews by a team of men, one of whom had called the woman “a rabble-rousing skirt.”
Much of the opposition to affirmative action is framed on the grounds of so-called “reverse discrimination
and unwarranted preferences.” However, less than 2 percent of the 91,000 employment discrimination
cases pending before the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission are reverse discrimination
cases. Under the law as written in Executive Orders and interpreted by the courts, anyone benefiting from
affirmative action must have relevant and valid job or educational qualifications.
If you are a woman at a company with an affirmative action plan, the plan may help eliminate some of the
barriers to advancement women have historically faced and may have actually faced working for your
employer. You may wish to consult with your company's human resource department or your personnel
handbook to learn more about how the plan may benefit you and other female employees.
12. Can my employer make me wear a dress or feminine
In an important U.S. Supreme Court case known as Price Waterhouse,
the Court ruled that
discrimination based on gender stereotyping is illegal sex discrimination under Title VII. In Price
Waterhouse, the employer delayed a female employee's promotion, in part based on evaluation
comments describing her as “macho” and advising her to "take a course in charm school.” This woman
was treated differently because of her gender, and because she seemed too “male.” Therefore, a female
employee who is discriminated against because she wears pants or other gender-neutral clothing may be
able to argue that she faced discrimination based on gender stereotypes or notions of appropriate dress
for women.
Many employers have dress codes or otherwise expect their employees to dress according to the
customs of the profession. Nothing in the Price Waterhouse case prevents an employer from asking that
both male and female employees dress professionally. For example, an employer who requires its male
employees to wear neckties at all times and its female employees to wear dresses or skirts would not
likely be found to have violated the law, as courts have previously allowed employers to require
employees to wear “suitable” business attire, even when the standards for what is considered suitable
vary by sex. However, California has passed a specific law making it illegal for employers to prevent an
employee from wearing pants because of sex.
An employer who requires employees to wear uniforms which are different for males and females is not
engaging in discriminatory practices as long as the uniforms for both males and females are “suitable.”
For example, women cannot be forced to wear short shirts or sexually revealing uniforms if men are not
required to do so.
13. Are height, weight, or lifting requirements legal?
It depends. The general principle is that the requirements must be necessary for the safe and efficient
performance of job-related tasks, because such requirements tend to disproportionately disadvantage
women and members of some racial and ethnic groups.
Statistics show that minimum height requirements adversely affect women, as well as members of some
racial and ethnic groups, because those groups on average are shorter than men or members of other
races or national origins. An employer therefore must show that the requirement is necessary for the safe
and efficient performance of job-related tasks in order to justify a minimum height requirement. If there is
a less restrictive way to accomplish the same goal other than a minimum height requirement, employers
will be required to use that alternative to avoid liability for discrimination.
For example, if a restaurant had a minimum height requirement for servers, presuming that shorter people
generally cannot carry the required weight on a tray, a less restrictive alternative could be the requirement
that all servers must be able to carry a set of minimum amount of weight on a tray. Of course, even if a
restaurant or any other business implemented a minimum strength or lifting requirement, that requirement
also must not have a significant adverse affect on a protected class of people unless required for the safe
and efficient performance of job-related tasks.
Weight requirements may be considered discriminatory because they often have an adverse impact on
certain classes of people. In addition to problems with discrimination on the basis of sex or national origin,
weight requirements also may constitute discrimination on the basis of disability. While weight-based
disability claims have generally failed under the federal anti-discrimination law, the Americans with
Disabilities Act, they have occasionally succeeded under the laws under certain states which either define
disability differently or specifically make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight or personal
appearance. It is also difficult to justify weight requirements as job-related if the purpose for the
requirement is based primarily on physical appearance rather than the ability to perform a specific jobrelated task.
14. Is my employer required to allow me to breastfeed on the
Since an increasing number of new mothers return to work shortly or within three months after giving
birth, breast-feeding has become a more common workplace issue. Employers now encounter such
practical and legal issues as providing nursing women with an appropriate place to pump and store breast
milk while at work; granting personal leave, modified schedules, or altered job duties to employees who
breast-feed; and dealing with the social acceptability of breast-feeding or expressing milk within the
Federal law does not directly address the legality of breast-feeding on the job or explicitly protect nursing
mothers. Some states, however, have passed laws either to make it illegal to discriminate against women
who breast feed, or to specifically require that employers accommodate nursing mothers at work by
providing adequate facilities for breast-feeding or expressing milk.
Even if there is not legal protection in your state affecting your employment, you may be able to
encourage your employer to voluntarily cease discrimination against mothers who breast-feed and/or to
educate others in your workplace to help improve your employment situation. According to the La Leche
League, studies indicate that women who continue to breastfeed once returning to work miss less time
from work because of baby-related illnesses, and have shorter absences when they do miss work,
compared with women who do not breastfeed. For more information, see Working it Out: Breastfeeding at
15. What does the term "glass ceiling" mean?
The term “glass ceiling” refers to an artificial barrier based on attitudes or bias that prevents qualified
women from advancing into mid-level and senior-level management positions. In other words, women can
advance so far, but hit an invisible barrier and can advance no farther. If you feel that you have been
discriminated against based on a “glass ceiling” at your company, you may bring a claim under Title VII or
state or local anti-discrimination laws.
Employers can and should take some or all of the following steps to eliminate the glass ceiling from their
Make sure that nondiscriminatory practices and requirements are used.
Examine subjective or neutral criteria to ensure that they do not have a disproportionate impact on
Set up workforce diversity programs to eliminate disadvantages and create a work environment
where all employees feel comfortable.
Make sure to hire employees based on true qualifications, not stereotypical ideas of a candidate's
Monitor and ensure the development of female employees.
Establish network and mentoring programs to help train and inform employees of opportunities for
Require all job postings to state promotion criteria and affirm the employer's commitment to diversity
in management.
16. What is the difference between sex discrimination and
gender identity discrimination?
The phrase “gender identity” refers to one's self-identification as a man or a woman, as opposed to one's
anatomical sex at birth. Usually, one's gender identity matches one's anatomical sex: people born with the
physical characteristics of males usually identify as men and those with physical characteristics of
females identify as women. However, for some people, gender identity does not always align with one's
anatomical sex. Thus, for transsexual people, gender identity and anatomical sex are not in agreement.
Someone born male may have a strong internal self-image and self-identification as a woman, or
someone born female may have a strong internal self-image and self-identification as a man. Some
transsexual people seek medical treatment in the form of hormone therapy or surgery to correct their
physical sex to agree with their gender identity. The term “transgender” is an umbrella term to describe
anyone who in one or more ways does not conform to gendered stereotypes of gender identity and/or
gender expression. Transgendered people can face serious discrimination in the workplace, generally
because of a failure to conform with traditional sex stereotypes or gender roles.A good example of this is
Caitlyn Jenner. Formerly known as Bruce Jenner, a retired Olympic Athlete, Caitlyn recently came out
about her internal self-identification as a woman, which conflicted with her anatomical physical
characteristics of a male.
Until very recently, federal and state courts have uniformly held that transsexual people are not protected
under Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act), the law that makes sex discrimination illegal, on the grounds that
Congress did not intend when passing the law for the term "sex" to protect transsexuals. However, in
some more recent court decisions, courts have concluded that transsexual persons are protected from
discrimination under Title VII and other sex discrimination statutes, based upon a more recent U.S.
Supreme Court case
that considers discrimination based on gender stereotyping to be sex
discrimination which is illegal under Title VII. The law is still developing in this area, but based on current
trends it is likely that more federal and state courts will find that discrimination on the basis of gender
identity is a violation of currently existing sex discrimination laws. For more information, please see our
page on gender identity discrimination.
17. Who enforces the law?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency of the federal government
responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to sex discrimination in workplaces of
15 or more employees. Most states have their own agencies that enforce state laws against
discrimination (see below).
18. What are the remedies available to me?
Victims of sex discrimination can recover remedies to include:
back pay
front pay
compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering)
punitive damages (damages to punish the employer)
other actions that will make an individual "whole" (in the condition he or she would have been but for
the discrimination)
Remedies also may include payment of:
attorneys' fees
expert witness fees
court costs.
An employer may be required to post notices to all employees addressing the violations of a specific
charge and advising them of their right to be free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. If
necessary, such notices must be accessible to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.
The employer also may be required to take corrective or preventive actions with regard to the source of
the discrimination and minimize the chance it will happen again, as well as discontinue the specific
discriminatory practices involved in the case.
a man is not a man if he believes he has to be superior over a woman to achieve her love,
a man is a man if he believes in letting a woman decide for herself who she wants to be,
a man is not a man if he believes control will make a woman stay,
a man is a man if he believes letting a woman choose what she wants to do will make her stay,
a man is not a man if he does not believe in giving a woman a choice in her free time, will make her feel
a man is man if he believes that letting a woman do whatever the hell she wants in her free time to make
her happy will make her love him more and feel safe,
a man is not a man if he believes that forbidding a woman to meet with other males, even just friends will
make her stay,
a man is a man if he trusts a woman, regardless of how long the relationship, that she will not cheat by
giving her the choice of who she wants to meet, will make her stay,
a man is not a man if he constantly refers to a woman as only useful in reproduction,
a man is a man if he believes that a woman was created for other things too,
a man is not a man if he believes that a woman should be devoted to the kitchen and household,
a man is a man if he believes that letting a woman choose how she wants to keep herself busy will make
her feel valued,
a man is not a man if he believes a woman is only useful for his needs, wants, and desires,
a man is a man if he believes that being with a woman is not only about objectification, sexualization,
reproductive control and male privilege.