Title VII and Anti-Discrimination Ordinances: Your Questions Answered

WHAT IS TITLE VII?

Title VII is one of the principal federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex (including gender and pregnancy). In addition to Title VII, many states and cities have their own anti-discrimination laws that work together with Title VII to prohibit workplace discrimination.

PREGNANCY FALLS UNDER SEX DISCRIMINATION? WHAT ELSE IS CONSIDERED SEX DISCRIMINATION?

Examples of sex discrimination include:

  • Sexual harassment

  • Pregnancy discrimination

  • Making employment decisions based on stereotypes about how men or women should appear or act

  • Treating a subset of one sex differently than the same subset of the other sex, for example treating Asian-American women differently than Asian-American men

  • Discrimination based on a person’s family responsibilities

  • Discrimination in employment benefits based on the sex of an employee or an employee’s spouse

DOES TITLE VII PROTECT DISCRIMINATION ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION?

No, Courts have historically held that Title VII does not protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. However, many states have been adopting anti-discrimination ordinances in which sexual orientation is considered a subset of sex discrimination.

DOES TEXAS CONSIDER DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION TO BE SEX DISCRIMINATION?

Texas does not have laws prohibiting private employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. However, there is an increasing number of Texas cities, with a population of 100,000 or more, who are implementing anti-discrimination ordinances or city employee protections. San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and Plano all have nondiscrimination ordinances, and Houston, El Paso, Arlington, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Mesquite, Denton, and Waco all have city employee protections but not nondiscrimination ordinances.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY COMPANY VIOLATES TITLE VII OR AN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCE?

Employers sued for discrimination violations often face significant financial losses either from paying thousands of dollars in legal fees defending meritless claims or from paying thousands more settling or litigating well-founded claims.

WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS FROM MY EMPLOYEES?

Although the risk of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation claims can never be eliminated, an employer can implement preventive measures to reduce the risk of liability.

A few suggested measures are:

  1. Implement an effective equal employment opportunity policy;

  2. Train supervisors and managers involved in interviewing applicants to avoid asking questions aimed at eliciting personal or inappropriate information;

  3. Train employees, supervisors, and managers on sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender-related issues; and

  4. Train all personnel responsible for handling internal complaints.