Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

Under federal law, employees are protected from unlawful employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, based on particular protected categories, thanks to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII).

To be covered by Title VII, an employer must employ 15 or more employees.

Title VII’s Protections & Provisions

Title VII makes it unlawful for public or private employers, employment agencies, licensing agencies, and unions to refuse to hire, to fire, or otherwise discriminate against any individual in compensation or the terms or conditions of his/her employment based on certain protected classes.  It further prohibits harassment in the workplace based on those same protected classes.

Under Title VII, employment discrimination or harassment based on any of the following protected categories is unlawful:

  • Color
  • Creed/Religion
  • Gender (Sex)
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy (included in Sex Discrimination)
  • Race

Title VII also prohibits retaliation against an employer in 2 ways:

  1. Retaliation for opposing discrimination or harassment based on any of the protected categories; and
  2. Retaliation for participating in the legal process, such as filing a discrimination complaint or acting as a witness for someone who has.

An employee who is not the direct victim of discrimination or harassment is also protected from retaliation if s/he opposes an employer’s discriminatory or harassing conduct toward another employee based on that other employee’s protected status.  Thus, for example, a Caucasian employee who opposes what he believes to be discrimination against an African-American employee is protected under Title VII, even though he is not the one potentially being discriminated against.

Third-party retaliation is also recognized by Title VII, so long as the individual engaging in opposition and the person retaliated against are close enough to each other.  As an example, assume and mother and son work for the same employer.  The mother complains to management that she is being discriminated against based on her sex.  In response, the employer does not retaliate against her, but rather against her son, by firing him.  In this scenario, both the mother and son would have claims of retaliation under Title VII.

Remedies Available Under Title VII

Under federal law, if an individual is successful at trial and it is found by a judge or jury that the individual was the victim of unlawful employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, that individual is entitled to recover his/her back pay (lost wages), attorney fees and costs, and out of pocket expenses (for example the out-of-pocket cost of insurance if benefits were lost).  Reinstatement (getting his/her old job back) is also available.

Compensatory damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages (monetary punishment levied against the employer for discriminating) are available through Title VII; however, an individual is not entitled to such damages.

Compensatory damages are subject to the following monetary caps, based on the number of employees employed by the defendant-employer:

  • Up to 100 employees: $50,000
  • 101 – 200 employees: $100,000
  • 201 – 500 employees: $200,000
  • 500+ employees: $300,000

Statute of Limitations

Before filing in federal court, an individual must start his/her employment discrimination, harassment or retaliation case in an administrative agency – the Department of Workforce Development – Equal Rights Division (ERD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The individual must also first secure a Notice of Right to Sue letter from the EEOC.

From the date that the Notice of Right to Sue is received, an individual has 90 days to file a federal complaint.  Thus, if the Notice is dated December 30th, but you do not receive it until January 2nd, your federal complaint must be filed within 90 days from January 2nd (April 2nd). If the federal employment discrimination complaint is not filed within the 90 days, it is barred and the individual loses his/her discrimination claim.

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