Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an employee’s race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, and most recently, sexual orientation and gender identity (these are called “protected classes”).
Title VII also prohibits employers from allowing their employees to harass another employee on the basis of that employee’s protected class, provided the employer knew about the harassment and did not take appropriate action.
Lastly, Title VII prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for filing a Title VII claim or testifying in a hearing resulting from a Title VII claim. Title VII covers employers who have 15 or more employees for more than 20 days out of a calendar year. All employers that have 15 or more employees for more than 20 days out of the year are bound by Title VII, except for the federal government, federally recognized Native American tribes, religious organizations (but only in reference to their ministers), and private nonprofit organizations. In addition to the protections offered under the Title VII, many state laws protect against discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, and sex.
In order for an employee to have a discrimination claim under Title VII, that employee’s employer must:
(1) discriminate against that employee,
(2) because of that employee’s color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and
(3) such discrimination resulted in an adverse effect on that employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
“Sex” also includes pregnancy.
There are a several actions by an employer that are generally considered to have adversely affected an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including but not limited to:
• passing for promotion,
• reducing hours or pay,
• failing to hire, or
• moving to an undesirable department or position.
Keep in mind that the employer must do one of these things because of the employee’s protected class. So, if an employer refuses to promote an employee because she is a woman, that woman has a claim under Title VII.
A hostile work environment claim is a form of discrimination claim. Title VII prohibits an employer from allowing its other employees to harass another employee because of his or her protected class, but to have a claim, the basic requirements are that:
(1) the harassment must have been because of that employee’s protected class,
(2) the harassment severe and pervasive enough to deprive the employee of his or her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, and
(3) the employer actually knew of the harassment and failed to take prompt and effective action to stop it.
For harassment to deprive an employee of his or her “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,” the harassment must be more than an occasional insult or tease. It must be severe and pervasive. Factors to look at are the frequency of the harassment, the severity of the harassment, whether the harassment was threatening or humiliating, and whether it interfered with an employee’s work performance. If brought to court, the court will balance all of these factors together.
The employer must have actually known about the harassment and failed to take proper measures to stop it. Generally, if you report the harassment to a supervisor, the employer is considered to have known. If your supervisor was the one doing the harassment, your employer is automatically considered to have known.
Finally, Title VII prohibits employers from taking an adverse employment action against an employee for filing a Title VII claim or for testifying in a Title VII hearing. So, if an employer fires an employee because they filed suit for discrimination under Title VII, then that employee has a new claim for retaliation that he or she can add to the discrimination claim. The employee can still win on the retaliation claim even though they would have lost on the discrimination claim. This also means that if a coworker testified on behalf a discriminated-against employee, and was subsequently fired because of this, they too have a retaliation claim.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) is the organization responsible for enforcing Title VII. You must file a charge with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit. Generally, you only have 180 days to file a charge after a discriminatory action by your employer, so it is best to act quickly. In many cases, the deadline is extended to 300 days if there is a state or local law that prohibits discrimination on the same basis.
You must file in person or by mail. If you wish to file a charge, or have questions about filing one, there are a few ways to do so:
You can visit the EEOC Public Portal, which will ask you questions to determine whether you may have a claim. Then you may schedule an interview with your nearest field office, in person or by phone.
You can schedule an in-person interview, or walk in, to file a charge at an EEOC field office. The EEOC’s field office in Arkansas is located at 820 Louisiana Street, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201. The field office’s phone number is 1-800-669-4000. Alternatively, if you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, you may call the videophone at 844-234-5122. You may bring a lawyer or an interpreter to help you communicate if you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. You should bring with you any notices of termination of your employment. The interviewing EEOC member will prepare a charge based on the information you have provided.
For other EEOC field offices, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/field-office.
You cannot file a charge over the phone, but you can initiate the process of filing a charge by calling 1-800-669-4000 to discuss your situation, at which point a representative will explain how to file a charge with your nearest field office. If you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, instead call the EEOC videophone at 1-844-234-5122.
You may file a charge by mail, you must send a signed letter to your local field office with the following information: • You name, address, email, and phone number. • The name, address, email, and phone number of the employer you wish to file a charge against. • If known, the number of employees that work for the employer. • The actions you believe were discriminatory. • When the discriminatory actions took place. • Why you believe you were discriminated against. • Your signature. Attached to this fact sheet is a sample form for such a letter; be sure to check Box 2 at the end of the form to ensure a charge filing.
After filing a charge with the EEOC, the EEOC will investigate a claim, and if they believe there is probable cause, try to mediate a settlement between you and your employer, and failing that, initiate a suit on your behalf. If they choose not to however, they will still send you a “Notice of Right to Sue” which will allow you to sue your employer on your own, at which point getting a lawyer is advisable. You may not sue your employer under Title VII on your own without such a notice.