Gender based discrimination at the workplace involves treating someone unfavorably because of that person’s sex. When an employee is discharged based on his/her gender, the employee may have been terminated wrongfully.
Laws against gender discrimination at work
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a Federal law that prohibits an employer from sexual discrimination in compensation, privileges of employment, conditions, terms, etc. The law protects both current workers and job applicants.
This means that if you are an employee not promoted or even terminated wrongfully, or you are not hired after for a position because of your gender, you are protected.
The law covers private employers, government and educational institutions that employ 15 or more individuals.
Some states also enacted state laws that make the Federal Act stricter locally. State laws generally cover workplaces with fewer than 15 people.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) is a federal labor law designed to put an end to the gender pay gap.
The law states that men and women should get equal pay and benefits for similar jobs. The term “similar job” is measured against the following:
- effort: physical and mental effort required to carry out the job
- skill: as required by the job, for example, education, experience, training
- responsibility: the general accountability required by the job
- working conditions: meaning the physical conditions in the work environment, and also hazards.
Wrongful termination due to gender discrimination, or sexual harassment
Federal law states that it is not legal to fire (or not hire) someone, based solely on the person’s sex, or gender stereotypes. With respect to compensation, benefits, etc., it is also illegal to differentiate between men and women in the same work environment who perform jobs that require similar skill and effort.
Generally speaking, women are the targets of gender discrimination, and the law against sex discrimination was intended to protect their rights.
Here are some examples of gender discrimination at work:
- A woman is not considered for a promotion or job that would require substantial travel or overtime, because of the employer’s assumption that women would want to spend more time with their kids.
- Out of a sales team of 10 who all produce similar sales numbers, 2 women are fired, because they are said to not be as aggressive salesman as men.
- Any issue that arises out of a gender based stereotype, before the issue could be proven.
It is worth noting that in some instances, gender may be deemed as an essential part of a given job. This is called bona fide occupational qualification.
Sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination
Sexual harassment also falls under the category of gender discrimination, even if it does not end in the firing of an employee.
Title VII does not specifically use the words “sexual harassment”, but in practice, courts have stated that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII.
Sexual harassment can be described as unwelcome verbal or physical advances of a sexual nature from somebody at work. When submission to or rejection of harassment affects someone’s job, interferes with their performance or creates an hostile or offensive work environment, it is considered to be illegal. This is important because the law does not prohibit simple teasing and isolated incidents that aren’t very serious.
Illegal sexual harassment may come from a supervisor, a co-worker, or even a company customer.
Common examples of sexual harassment at the workplace are:
- requests for sexual favors
- bribery, for example less overtime or promotion in exchange for something
- verbal jokes/comments that make the work environment stressful
Retaliation claims are also common in sexual harassment cases. A woman may be fired for complaining about sexual harassment, or even because she did not accept the advances of a superior.
Gender discrimination claims and court examples with settlements
The number of cases reported to the EEOC which charge employers with discrimination based on sex account for around 30% of total filings. This number has been more or less steady throughout the years.
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Here are some gender discrimination court cases and settlements:
- A woman was awarded $320,000 in damages after proving that her employer promoted 2 male directors for positions she had interviewed for. (Source)
- A class action lawsuit awarded $33 million to women that were employed as financial advisers by Citigroup Global Markets Inc between 2003 and 2008. These women were discriminated against with regard to their compensation and business opportunities. (Source)
- A woman was awarded $490,000 and a due promotion at the Air Force base she had been working at for decades. She proved that men were promoted rather than her, and that management did not want to promote women into supervisor positions. (Source)
- A woman was awarded $48,500 after proving that her boss harassed her by verbally abusing her and discriminating against her. (Source)
- A woman was awarded $750,000 after proving that she was not promoted from her financial adviser position into a lucrative joint production agreement with a senior adviser. A less experience male was promoted instead of her. (Source)
What to do if you are the victim of gender discrimination or sexual harassment?
Your complaint needs to be filed at the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the discrimination.
Please read our detailed guide on filing claims here.