Despite advances in civil rights, discrimination is still a sad part of our society. Unfortunately, many of these discriminatory acts occur within the workplace. When employers engage in such acts, they are in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The purpose of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to prohibit employment discrimination. While most employees understand that such a law is in place, they do not always understand what rights it protects and what employees can do when faced with discrimination.

What Does Title VII Do?

Title VII’s core purpose is that it makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against any individual because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The act prevents discrimination involved in any act of employment, which includes:

  • Hiring and firing
  • Transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall
  • Recruitment
  • Use of company facilities
  • Fringe benefits
  • Compensation, assignment, or classification of employees
  • Testing
  • Pay, retirement plans, and disability leave
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Any other conditions of employment

These conditions apply to any employer with at least fifteen employees and extend to governments on the federal, state, and local levels. Beyond just the workplace, Title VII also provides these protections to individuals in private and public colleges and universities, labor organizations, and employment agencies.

Title VII differs from the Equal Pay Act in that Title VII covers a much broader range of work-related actions and discriminatory categories than the Equal Pay Act’s restrictions against sex-based wage discrimination.

What to Do When You Believe You Have a Claim Under Title VII

If you have encountered a violation of Title VII in your workplace, you have a right to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal organization that enforces anti-discrimination laws.

Filing a complaint with the EEOC does not require a lawyer. However, you must file a complaint within 180 days from the date of the discriminatory action(s). Not filing a complaint within six months may result in expiration of your rights.

After you have filed a complaint, the EEOC will then:

  • Inform your employer that you have filed a discrimination charge.
  • Work to resolve your complaint through settlement or referral to a mediator.
  • File a lawsuit if you are unable to reach a settlement both parties can agree on and the employer is a private organization.

The EEOC may also dismiss a charge when it is unable to reach an agreement to settle the complaint. When this occurs, you will receive a “right to sue” letter. This letter serves as proof that you have completed the complaint process and allows you to file a lawsuit.

Upon receiving the right to sue letter, you have 90 days to file your lawsuit. While you may file in either state or federal court, most Title VII violations go to federal court.

Consequences of Filing a Complaint

Many employees may feel afraid of the potential consequences of reporting discrimination. While they do not appreciate their current circumstances, they also do not want to make their situation worse if the complaint does not yield any results. This fear stops many from exercising their right to prevent discrimination.

In addition to protecting from discriminatory acts, Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against anyone who files a complaint with the EEOC or speaks out against workplace discrimination. It also protects other employees who choose to participate in investigations, proceedings, or hearings related to discrimination.

Title VII provides protection to employees in the workplace. If you have experienced workplace discrimination, contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor. Whether you decide to file a claim with you, the EEOC can help you understand your rights and determine if Title VII applies to your circumstances.