For the past forty-eight years, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has prohibited employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin. Any employment decision, including hiring, promotion, and discharge, based on one of these factors is unlawful and subjects the employer to an award of back pay, promotion, or reinstatement. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may file suits, as may the employee—after the commission screens the complaint.
Two major types of discrimination suits are those for disparate treatment (in which the employer intended to discriminate) and disparate impact (in which, regardless of intent, the impact of a particular non-job-related practice has a discriminatory effect). In matters of religion, the employer is bound not only to refrain from discrimination based on an employee’s religious beliefs or preferences but also to accommodate the employee’s religious practices to the extent that the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the business.
Sex discrimination, besides refusal to hire a person solely on the basis of sex, includes discrimination based on pregnancy. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, and it includes the creation of a hostile or offensive working environment. A separate statute, the Equal Pay Act, mandates equal pay for men and women assigned to the same job.
One major exception to Title VII permits hiring people of a particular religion, sex, or nationality if that feature is a bona fide occupational qualification. There is no bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) exception for race, nor is a public stereotype a legitimate basis for a BFOQ.
Affirmative action plans, permitting or requiring employers to hire on the basis of race to make up for past discrimination or to bring up the level of minority workers, have been approved, even though the plans may seem to conflict with Title VII. But affirmative action plans have not been permitted to overcome bona fide seniority or merit systems.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers over forty from discharge solely on the basis of age. Amendments to the law have abolished the age ceiling for retirement, so that most people working for employers covered by the law cannot be forced to retire.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability and applies to most jobs in the private sector.
At common law, an employer was free to fire an employee for any reason or for no reason at all. In recent years, the employment-at-will doctrine has been seriously eroded. Many state courts have found against employers on the basis of implied contracts, tortious violation of public policy, or violations of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Beyond antidiscrimination law, several other statutes have an impact on the employment relationship. These include the plant-closing law, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Rainbow Airlines, a new air carrier headquartered in Chicago with routes from Rome to Canberra, extensively studied the psychology of passengers and determined that more than 93 percent of its passengers felt most comfortable with female flight attendants between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-four. To increase its profitability, the company issued a policy of hiring only such people for jobs in the air but opened all ground jobs to anyone who could otherwise qualify. The policy made no racial distinction, and, in fact, nearly 30 percent of the flight attendants hired were black. What violations of federal law has Rainbow committed, if any?
- Tex Olafson worked for five years as a messenger for Pressure Sell Advertising Agency, a company without a unionized workforce. On his fifth anniversary with the company, Tex was called in to the president’s office, was given a 10 percent raise, and was complimented on his diligence. The following week, a new head of the messenger department was hired. He wanted to appoint his nephew to a messenger job but discovered that a company-wide hiring freeze prevented him from adding another employee to the messenger ranks. So he fired Tex and hired his nephew. What remedy, if any, does Tex have? What additional facts might change the result?
- Ernest lost both his legs in combat in Vietnam. He has applied for a job with Excelsior Products in the company’s quality control lab. The job requires inspectors to randomly check products coming off the assembly line for defects. Historically, all inspectors have stood two-hour shifts. Ernest proposes to sit in his wheelchair. The company refuses to hire him because it says he will be less efficient. Ernest’s previous employment record shows him to be a diligent, serious worker. Does Ernest have a legal right to be hired? What additional facts might you want to know in deciding?
- Marlene works for Frenzied Traders, a stockbrokerage with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. For several years, Marlene has been a floor trader, spending all day in the hurly-burly of stock trading, yelling herself hoarse. Each year, she has received a large bonus from the company. She has just told the company that she is pregnant. Citing a company policy, she is told she can no longer engage in trading because it is too tiring for pregnant women. Instead, she may take a backroom job, though the company cannot guarantee that the floor job will be open after she delivers. Marlene also wants to take six months off after her child is born. The company says it cannot afford to give her that time. It has a policy of granting paid leave to anyone recuperating from a stay in the hospital and unpaid leave for four months thereafter. What legal rights does Marlene have, and what remedies is she entitled to?
- Charlie Goodfellow works for Yum-burger and has always commanded respect at the local franchise for being the fastest server. One day, he undergoes a profound religious experience, converts to Sikhism, and changes his name to Sanjay Singh. The tenets of his religion require him to wear a beard and a turban. He lets his beard grow, puts on a turban, and his fellow workers tease him. When a regional vice president sees that Sanjay is not wearing the prescribed Yum-Burger uniform, he fires him. What rights of Sanjay, if any, has Yum-burger violated? What remedies are available to him?
SELF CHECK QUESTIONS
- Affirmative action in employment
- is a requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- is a federal statute enacted by Congress
- depends on the circumstances of each case for validity
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects
- all workers of any age
- all workers up to age seventy
- most workers over forty
- no workers over seventy
- Federal laws barring discrimination against the handicapped and disabled
- apply to all disabilities
- apply to most disabilities in private employment
- apply to all disabilities in public employment
- apply to most disabilities in public employment
- Under Title VII, a bona fide occupational qualification exception may never apply to cases involving
- racial discrimination
- religious discrimination
- sex discrimination
- age discrimination
- The employment-at-will doctrine derives from
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- employment contracts
- the common law
- liberty of contract under the Constitution