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You are Here: Home > Discrimination > Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination Definition

Sex discrimination in employment is prejudice against either male or female employees on the basis of gender.

Sex Discrimination Laws

Sex discrimination is prohibited in any aspect of employment, including hiring, pay, benefits, promotion and retention, by three Federal discrimination laws.

The "main" sex discrimination law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate in any aspect of employment on the basis of gender, as well as on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.

Title VII also prohibits employers from making employment decisions about employees based on gender stereotypes and assumptions; for example, an employer may not refuse to hire mothers based solely on the assumption that they will all eventually miss work from caring for sick children.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 are the two other Federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination in employment.

The Equal Pay Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to specifically prohibit sex discrimination caused by employers paying unequal wages to men and women, who perform essentially the same jobs.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to specifically prohibit sex discrimination against either parent on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act generally apply to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local government employers, and to employment agencies, unions and Federal employers. The Equal Pay Act generally applies to all employers and unions.

Did you know?Sex discrimination under the laws includes sexual harassment and, as defined by the Federal Government (for Federal employment) and several states, also includes prejudice on the basis of sexual preference (sexual orientation), marital status or parental status (e.g., number of children).

All of the Federal sex discrimination laws are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sex discrimination laws in states that have them are enforced by state EEOC equivalents. Generally, you are protected from sex discrimination by whichever law at the state or Federal level affords the most protection.

Protections for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status and parental status are not enforced by the EEOC. Rather they are enforced by other Federal government agencies for Federal employment and by state EEOC equivalents or other state agencies for public- and private-sector employment. See the fact sheet by the EEOC for more information. Consult an attorney for legal advice.

Sex Discrimination Legal Recourse

If you reasonably believe that you've suffered sex discrimination in some aspect of employment, then you or your representative (such as your attorney) may file a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC. If a state sex discrimination law comes into play, then the EEOC will instruct you.

You might also be entitled to file a sex discrimination lawsuit; however, you must first file a discrimination charge with the EEOC, unless you file your lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act.

The Equal Pay Act is the only Federal discrimination law under which an employee may file a lawsuit, without first filing a charge with the EEOC. However, the EEOC advises that filing a charge anyway might be a good idea, just in case another Federal discrimination law applies.

Don't wait too long to file your sex discrimination charge or lawsuit, as a statue of limitations applies. If you need help, consult an attorney. An attorney will help you to file your charge or lawsuit in a legally-compelling way and will also help you to collect necessary evidence. Attorneys often take sex discrimination cases on contingency.

Your employer may not retaliate against you in any way for filing a sex discrimination charge or lawsuit, or for participating in related proceedings. Your employer is also prohibited from retaliating against witnesses who testify on your behalf, such as coworkers.

Updates: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to finally decide whether the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law gives gay and lesbians the right to marry in all states. The Court will likely rule on the matter by June, 2015.

On December 18, 2014, the Supreme Court turned down a request by Florida's Attorney General to block gay marriages in the state. That occurred after a U.S. district judge struck down the state's constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages. The district judge stayed his decision until January 5, 2015. Subsequently, Florida must allow same-sex marriages after January 5.

Add six more states to the total number of states where same-sex marriages are now legal. On October 25, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder again made an announcement, this time that the Federal government will recognize same-sex marriages in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. The total number of states where same-sex marriages are now legal is 32, plus the District of Columbia. More states will likely follow.

On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states (Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin) that were seeking to ban same-sex marriages, by overturning lower-court rulings that legalized them. The Supreme Court's decision confirms the legalization of same-sex marriages in those five states. It also opens the door for more states to legalize the practice.

Eleven days later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in the five states affected by the Supreme Court's decision, plus those performed in two more states: Colorado and Nevada. Holder's announcement means that same-sex couples married in the seven states are entitled to applicable Federal benefits. The total number of states where same-sex marriages are Federally recognized is now 26, plus the District of Columbia. Additional states will soon follow.

On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees and job candidates on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Obama's Executive Order amends an Executive Order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In late June 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it had published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The new rule is "to revise the definition of spouse under the FMLA in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision" (below).

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The ruling means that couples who are involved in same-sex marriages legalized by the states are now eligible for applicable Federal benefits.

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