Title VII is the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects an individual from employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Specifically, Title VII prohibits employers from hiring, refusing to hire, firing, or laying off an individual due to those factors. It also makes illegal any attempt to segregate, classify, or limit the opportunities of any employees for reasons related to any of the above. This includes promotion, compensation, job training, or any other aspect of employment.
Title VII's Significance to Working Women
With regard to gender, workplace discrimination is illegal. This includes discriminatory practices that are deliberate and intentional, or those that take on a less obvious form such as neutral job policies which disproportionately exclude individuals on the basis of sex and that are not job related. Also illegal are any employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions regarding the abilities, traits, or the performance of an individual on the basis of sex.
Sexual Harassment and Pregnancy Covered
Title VII also offers protection to individuals who encounter sex-based discrimination that takes the form of sexual harassment including direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment.
Pregnancy is also protected. Amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.
Protection for Working Mothers
According to the Georgetown University Law Center:
Courts have ruled that Title VII prohibits employer decisions and policies based purely on an employer's stereotyped impression that motherhood… are incompatible with serious work. Courts have found, for example, that the following conduct violates Title VII: having one policy for hiring men with preschool aged children, and another for hiring women with preschool aged children; failing to promote an employee on the assumption that her childcare duties would keep her from being a reliable manager; providing service credits to employees on disability leave, but not to those on pregnancy-related leave; and requiring men, but not women, to demonstrate disability in order to qualify for childrearing leave.
LGBT Individuals Not Covered
Although Title VII is wide-ranging and covers many workplace issues faced by women and men, it is important to note that sexual orientation is not covered by Title VII. Thus lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender individuals are not protected by this law if discriminatory practices by an employer occur that are related to perceived sexual preferences.
Title VII applies to any employer with 15 or more employees in both the public and private sector including federal, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, and training programs.