Title VII claims bring fear to employers. While many forms of discrimination are very overt, some are more subtle, which often leaves the violation undetectable until the employer faces a claim or lawsuit.
It is difficult to ascertain discrimination and, sometimes, denial seems like a better strategy because these issues can be uncomfortable. However, for the people who experience discrimination, the workplace becomes unbearable and decreases their productivity. Understanding Title VII, the composition of a discrimination claim, and how employers can avoid being subject to one will eliminate the urge for denial and will help employees feel valued.
Title VII Discrimination Explained
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against people on the basis of race, sex, religion, national original, physical disability, and age. People who fall under these groups are considered members of a protected class.
The anti-discrimination law applies to most employers who engage in interstate commerce and keep more than 15 employees. It forbids discrimination in all aspects of employment including hiring, termination, compensation, transfers or promotions, recruitment, testing use of company facilities, and benefits. If you use any designation of a protected class listed above to make an employment-related decision, chances are you are violating Title VII.
Causes of Action under Title VII
The law covers a wide variety of possible causes of actions. Past lawsuits filed under Title VII included the following subject matter:
- Failure to promote qualified candidates who are not white
- Demotion or termination as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions
- Hiring practices that favor people under a certain age
- Sexual harassment or hostile work environment
To prove a claim, the employee must complete a three-part analysis. First, she or he needs to identify the specific employment practices showing discrimination that targets a member of a protected class. This is most frequently accomplished with statistical evidence.
Second, once she or he can show a disparate impact, the focus is on the company. The burden there is to show that the challenged practice serves a needed business necessity.
Even if there is business necessity, there is still a chance the discrimination is illegal. That is where the third part comes in. If the employee proves that there are alternate practices that do not discriminate, or at least have a smaller adverse impact, then the company can still be held liable under Title VII. As long as there were different options for the company, it is unlikely that it will avoid liability.
There are also causes of action for retaliation, as some employees experience negative impacts after they bring a discriminatory practice to light. Protection against retaliation also extends to employees who may not have experienced discrimination but provide testimony or other assistance on the victim's behalf.
The Landmines and How to Avoid Them
As this is a very broad law with wide implications, employers often fear that their behavior will be interpreted as discrimination. Sometimes, it is not the practice itself that is discriminatory but perception that paints it that way. Even this can be a dangerous place to be as all it takes is for an alternative to the current approach to be available.
These strategies will address the lawsuit landmines and help you avoid them:
- Monitor Hiring Practices While the EEOC form where candidates reveal their gender, race, and other aspects of their backgrounds is voluntary, when it is completed it gives insight into hiring. If there appears to be one group favored over another in hiring practices, address that in your company before it becomes an issue on a wider stage.
- Training Claims of harassment or hostile work environment may be intentionally ignored but not because people do not care. It often fails to be addressed because employees do not know what to do. Conduct training sessions to help people notice when environments are hostile to members of a protected class and teach the appropriate responses to that situation.
- Implement Response Procedures Besides training, sometimes people do not know where to turn. Set up departments and personnel where claims can be reported and managed within your company first. People who face harassment based on gender or sexual orientation may be experiencing that from a supervisor, so they need an alternative reporting figure.
- Monitor Termination Procedures If there are patterns in termination that impact one group over another that can become very problematic. Companies often had the misfortune of facing damages after people who reached a certain age were terminated, women who had children were transferred or one race happened to receive more negative reviews than another. Title VII claims often turn on patterns and statistics. Make sure your company is not making this easy for possible claimants.
Title VII may be a broad and sometimes threatening law, but there are ways to promote good employment practices and create an effective work environment for everyone. Take steps to embrace diversity at your company and monitor those efforts to ensure fair treatment.