Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary federal anti-discrimination statute applying to employers. The law prohibits employers engaged in industries affecting commerce, employment agencies and labor organizations from discriminating on the basis of:
- National Origin
Of course, the analysis as to whether an action would be considered discriminatory under Title VII, or even whether a particular employer is subject to the law, is more complicated than this short list would suggest.
Employers Subject to Title VII
The test as to whether an employer is subject to Title VII involves two parts. First, the organization must be engaged in an industry that affects commerce. Note that the business itself need not be shown to impact commerce, only the industry within which it operates. As a practical matter, in today’s economy that test is met by virtually every business, and so is rarely an issue in a Title VII claim.
The second requirement relates to the number of employees, and is somewhat less straightforward. An employer is subject to the law if it employs “fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” Note, however, that despite the detailed breakdown, the law will generally apply to any organization regularly employing 15 or more people.
The Scope of Title VII Regulations
Most employers are aware that it violates Title VII to directly rely on one of the prohibited factors in making an employment decision. For example, most employers would know better than to choose a male applicant over a female one simply because of sex, or to advertise for a Christian to fill a non-religious position. However, Title VII imposes subtler obligations on covered employers–obligations that many employers do not fully understand.
Working with an experienced labor and employment attorney to develop your hiring, termination, promotion, internal discipline, and other procedures will help protect your organization against Title VII claims and position you to put forth an effective defense if allegations are made.
Disparate Impact Claims Under Title VII
In addition to discrimination directly based on race, sex, color, national origin or religion, an employer may be held liable for practices that have a disparate impact on members of a protected group. Of course, not all requirements or practices that disproportionately impact one group or another violate Title VII. The practice will be considered discriminatory only if the employer fails to demonstrate that the practice is job related and consistent with business necessity.
For example, a job requirement that applicants be able to lift 100 pounds might have a disparate impact on women. Statistically, it is very likely that fewer women than men will fulfill that requirement. If the job involved carrying materials in a warehouse and those materials routinely weighed close to 100 pounds, then the employer could likely establish that the requirement was job related and necessary. However, if the same employer applied the 100 pound lifting test to every employee, though employees in many departments were never called upon to actually lift heavy materials, the employer would very likely be held to have violated Title VII in the event that a claim arose.
Title VII Enforcement
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with enforcement of Title VII. A charge may be filed by the party who believes he or she has been aggrieved on behalf of that person or by a member of the Commission. The period immediately following the filing of a charge can be critical, as the employer has the opportunity to respond and submit documentation in an effort to resolve the issue without further action, including civil litigation.
Protecting Your Business from Title VII Claims
It is impossible to guarantee that no employee will ever file a charge with the EEOC alleging that an employer has violated Title VII. However, being well prepared and seeking knowledgeable guidance protects your business in several ways. First, ensuring that you are in fact in compliance with Title VII minimizes the likelihood of a charge being filed. Second, a company that has worked closely with an experienced labor and employment attorney to develop policies and procedures that comply with Title VII will be able to produce solid evidence if a charge should arise. Finally, a law firm that has worked with the company to establish both procedures and documentation procedures will be prepared to provide quick and efficient assistance in responding to such claims.