Know Your Rights: Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. Title VII also applies to private and public colleges and universities, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

Despite Title VII’s passage half a century ago, gender and race discrimination in the workplace is still a serious problem. If you have questions about discrimination in the workplace, or if you believe you have faced unlawful discrimination at work, this resource will help get you started.

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What does Title VII say?

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

— Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment, including

  • Hiring and firing
  • Compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
  • Transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
  • Job advertisements
  • Recruitment
  • Testing
  • Use of company facilities
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Fringe benefits
  • Pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
  • Other terms and conditions of employment

What should I do if I believe I have a claim under Title VII?

If you believe you have a Title VII claim, you have the right to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing many anti-discrimination laws. But don’t wait to file your complaint! In most cases you have 180 days — that’s six months — from the date of the discriminatory activity to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC in order to preserve your rights. You do not need an attorney to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC’s websitewill help you with instructions on filing a charge.

What will the EEOC do after I file a complaint?

After you have filed a complaint, the EEOC will notify your employer that you have filed a discrimination charge and begin an investigation into your complaint. The EEOC may then a take a number of different paths to try and resolve your complaint. First, the EEOC may attempt to settle your complaint or refer you and your employer to a mediator. Second, if the EEOC is unable to reach a settlement both parties agree on, and the defendant is a private employer, the EEOC may file a lawsuit in federal. Finally, the EEOC may also choose to simply dismiss the charge. When a charge is dismissed, or if the EEOC is unable to reach an agreement to settle the complaint, the EEOC will issue a notice to you advising you of your right to sue in court. This notice is called a “right-to-sue” letter. If you want to file a lawsuit before the EEOC completes its process, you may request a right-to-sue letter.

What is the difference between the Equal Pay Act and Title VII?

Title VII’s coverage is much broader than the EPA’s. While the EPA only prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, Title VII bars all employment discrimination (including hiring, firing, and promotion as well as wage) in more categories (including race, color, religion, and national origin as well as sex).

I’m not sure yet if I want to file an EEOC charge. What steps can I take to protect myself?

  1. Keep a record of the discriminatory practices you believe are taking place.
  2. Check your company’s employee handbook. Your company may have an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer or another way for you to file an internal complaint. For instance, some companies offer mediation or other tools to resolve problems.
  3. Keep doing a good job and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you do a good job at work.
  4. Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting discrimination can be very stressful.
  5. You can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights whether you choose to file a claim or not. The EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve the complaint.
  6. Keep timing in mind. In most cases you have 180 days — six months — from the date of the discriminatory activity to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC in order to preserve your rights.

Can my employer take action against me for filing a discrimination charge or speaking up about a potential Title VII violation?

No. Title VII forbids employers from retaliating against you for filing a charge of discrimination or speaking out against discrimination. It also protects you from retaliation if you choose to participate in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing on behalf of a co-worker who you believe has had his or her rights violated under Title VII. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think discrimination has occurred in your workplace!