Civil Rights and Discrimination Laws

Below is a list of federal laws that guarantee civil rights and prohibit discrimination in a number of settings, including links to the full texts of those laws. (Note: Many states have civil rights laws of their own which mirror those at the federal level, so your state may have its own laws that are very similar to those identified below. In addition, municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights.)

  • Air Carrier Access Act of 1986
    Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the provision of (including access to) air transportation.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations.
  • Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
    Requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and useable by handicapped persons.
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act
    Prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because an applicant receives income from a public assistance program.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
    Requires that employers pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of whether the employees are male or female.
  • Fair Housing Act
    Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
    Gives employees the right to take time off from work in order to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child, or to look after an ill family member.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    Ensuring that the rights of students with disabilities are protected, and that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education.
  • National Voter Registration Act
    Establishes procedures to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for national office.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
    Prohibits employment discrimination against female workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant — including discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
    Protects disabled individuals from discrimination by employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance.
  • Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
    Protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws; also protects the religious exercise of inmates and other persons confined to certain institutions.
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
    Prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, to increase educational and athletic opportunities for females in schools and colleges nationwide.
  • U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 21 — Civil Rights
    Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings — including education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified — including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
  • The U.S. Constitution | Articles | Amendments
    The U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1789, outlines the role and operation of government in the United States. Includes links to all articles and amendments, with annotations.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
    Prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote, and forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide.

What Third-Party Retaliation Means for Your Business

The U.S. Supreme Court recently expanded retaliation law in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP by holding that an employee may sue for “third-party retaliation” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Third-party retaliation occurs when an employer takes an “adverse employment action” (e.g., discharge or demotion) against someone other than the person who engaged in statutorily “protected activity” (e.g., filed a discrimination charge or lawsuit). Even before this decision, “retaliation” was the most prevalent charge at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), representing 36.3% of total filings in 2010. Race discrimination charges ranked second at 35.9%, while sex discrimination charges were third at 29.1%.

Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee because he or she has “opposed” unlawful discrimination or “has made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding or litigation under this chapter.” These are known as the “opposition” and “participation” clauses of Title VII. Filing a charge of discrimination is plainly “protected activity” under this definition. In Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN, decided in 2009, the Supreme Court held that the “opposition” clause protects an employee who reports or opposes discrimination when answering an employer’s questions during an internal investigation. The Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether an employee’s mere participation in an internal investigation constitutes “protected activity” under the “participation” clause of Title VII when the employee has no knowledge of discrimination and the investigation is purely internal (i.e., unrelated to a discrimination charge or lawsuit).

For employers, the Supreme Court’s Thompson decision has ramifications for you in circumstances you may not have foreseen. For example, if one of your female employees files a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC and you fire her brother six weeks later, that could give rise to a third-party retaliation claim. Assume the brother had been verbally counseled for repeated performance issues. However, at the time his sister filed her EEOC charge, you had not given her brother a formal disciplinary write-up. Can the fired brother assert a third-party retaliation claim against your company for firing him in order to retaliate against his co-worker/sister for her EEOC charge? Based on the Thompson decision, the answer is yes. It remains to be seen whether the decision extends to an employee who answers questions as part of an internal investigation of alleged discrimination, or a co-worker who is in a relationship with that employee.

Thompson: Analyzing the Supreme Court’s Third-Party Retaliation Decision

In Thompson, North American Stainless, LP (NAS) fired Miriam Relalado’s fiancé and co-worker, Eric Thompson, three weeks after she filed a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC. Thompson filed his own charge and a subsequent lawsuit asserting that NAS fired him to retaliate against Relalado for her charge.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted NAS summary judgment on the grounds that Title VII does not permit third-party retaliation claims. It held that Thompson did not engage in any statutorily “protected activity” to support a retaliation claim such as filing a charge prior to his discharge. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals initially reversed but later affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court reversed and held that if the facts Thompson alleged are true, his firing constituted unlawful retaliation. The justices remanded the case to the district court for trial, explaining that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision must be construed to cover a broad range of employer actions that “well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Applying this test, the Supreme Court deduced, a “reasonable worker obviously might be dissuaded from engaging in ‘protected activity’ if she knew that her fiancé would be fired.” The Supreme Court held that Thompson fell within the “zone of interests” protected by Title VII because (1) he was an NAS employee, (2) Title VII’s purpose is to protect employees from employers’ unlawful acts and (3) NAS’s alleged conduct was not accidental but unlawful retaliation intended to punish Thompson’s fiancée.

Applying the Decision to Future Claims: What Does “Zone of Interests” Mean?

The Supreme Court rejected NAS’s concern that it would be at risk for a retaliation claim from any employee who has a relationship with employees engaging in “protected activity.” It explained that an individual’s interests cannot be “so marginally related to or inconsistent with the purposes implicit in the statute that it cannot reasonably be assumed that Congress intended to permit the suit.” However, the Supreme Court declined to “identify a fixed class of relationships” for which third-party retaliation is unlawful. Does third-party retaliation apply only to family and couples who are engaged to be married? Does it apply to those who are merely dating? To friends in the workplace? To work acquaintances?

What we do know from the Thompson decision is that the “zone of interests” extends beyond an employee who engages in protected activity to her fiancé. Given that, the protected zone most likely extends to immediate family members. It is unlikely that courts will extend the “zone of interests” to mere work acquaintances. However, as the Supreme Court explained, retaliation claims are highly fact-dependent. Exactly who falls within the protected “zone of interests” will be determined by subsequent cases over the next few years. Given that, it behooves employers to consult with their labor and employment counsel to ascertain whether termination decisions now expose them to future third-party retaliation claims and whether those claims are readily defensible.

Online College To Pay $260,000 To Settle EEOC Lawsuit Charging Sex Harassment By Supervisors Online College To Pay $260,000 To Settle EEOC Lawsuit Charging Sex Harassment By Supervisors

Anthem College Online Tolerated a Hostile Workplace, Federal Agency Charged

PHOENIX – High-Tech Institute, Inc., doing business as Anthem College Online, will pay $260,000 as part of a settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. In its suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (Civil Action No.CV-09-2041-ROS), the EEOC charged that Anthem College subjected female employees to repeated sexual harassment by supervisors.

According to the EEOC, six female admissions representatives working at the Phoenix, Ariz., location were frequently sexually harassed by three supervisors. The EEOC’s allegations included that the supervisors engaged in unwanted sexual touching and comments, writing sexually suggestive e-mails and soliciting sex from employees during unwelcome visits to the employees’ homes in the early morning hours. Some of this abusive behavior was witnessed by other Anthem College employees, the EEOC said.

The EEOC maintained that Anthem College knew or should have known about and tolerated this sexually hostile work environment caused by its supervisors. The agency said the company’s former human resource manager wrote that Anthem College employees were fearful to come forward because an alleged harasser was seen drinking and socializing with upper management and that there was blatant disrespect to employees and rampant poor management.

According to the EEOC, the company unreasonably delayed removing a class member from under the supervision of an alleged harasser who, the company’s own former human resources manager testified, was a “psychopath.” The EEOC argued that despite Anthem College’s knowledge about the harassment, the company failed to take reasonable steps to investigate and remedy the harassment.

“Employees who have an official or strong duty to communicate to management are considered part of management,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the Phoenix District Office, which originated the legal action. “Here, there was a breakdown in reporting by persons whose job descriptions required them to report any issues affecting the normal operation of the admissions department, including sexual harassment. They failed to do so, with serious consequences.”

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the settlement requiring Anthem College to pay $260,000 to the former employees, Anthem College also must investigate any further complaints of sexual harassment, provide training for managers and supervisors on conducting sexual harassment investigations and post a notice that harassment of Anthem College’s employees will not be tolerated.

EEOC Phoenix District Director Rayford O. Irvin added, “We insist that companies fulfill their obligation to protect employees from sexual harassment and provide the necessary training to ensure this protection.”