Equal Employment Opportunity: Title VII Requirements for Managers & Organizations

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is important in sustaining equal employment opportunities for people of a different race, color, gender, religion or national origin. Learn the breakdown of its components in this lesson. Updated: 10/01/2021

Title VII - An Overview

Linus is a new human resources specialist that is undergoing orientation with Mary, the manager of the company's human resources department. Today, Mary is explaining compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mary explains that Title VII applies to private sector employers, state government agencies and local government agencies that employ at least 15 people. It prohibits discrimination in employment based upon race, color, gender, religion and national origin.

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  • 0:39 Prohibited Practices & BFOQ
  • 2:49 Prima Facie & Burden Shifting
  • 5:00 Disparate Impact
  • 6:18 Handling a Charge
  • 8:04 Retaliation Prohibited
  • 8:34 Lesson Summary
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Prohibited Practices and BFOQ

Linus asks what employment activities are covered. Mary tells him that a covered employer may not discriminate in hiring, firing, pay, benefits, training, layoffs and any other term or condition of employment. She also tells him to remember that a job applicant is covered under the Act just like employees.

In making any employment decision, it's important that the company use neutral criteria that does not consider employee or applicant characteristics prohibited by Title VII, such as race, gender and religion. Applications and other pre-employment inquiries should only request information that is necessary for determining whether a person is qualified. This usually does not include things such as race, nationality, gender and religion.

Linus asks if there are any exceptions to the prohibition against discrimination, and Mary tells him that there is. An employer can make a hiring decision based upon race, sex and national origins if one of these characteristics is a bona fide occupational qualification. Mary tells Linus that an employer must establish that the required characteristic is necessary for the success of the company's business and another protected class does not have the characteristics necessary for success in employment.

Linus asks Mary for some examples. Mary tells him that a church can discriminate against non-followers of the religion in hiring someone as clergy because membership and belief in the religion is essential to success at the job. However, a church probably can't discriminate against people hired to clean or do secretarial work based upon their religious affiliation. Mary also explains that hiring an actor based upon race or gender may be a bona fide occupational qualification if the role requires a specific race or gender.

Prima Facie Case and Burden Shifting

In a typical case, a person alleging discrimination has to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must establish that:

  • He or she is a member of a protected class
  • He or she was qualified for the position, promotion or other condition or term of employment
  • He or she was not hired, not promoted, fired or had some other adverse employment action
  • Someone else not in the protected class was hired, promoted or received the favorable condition or term of employment

Linus is a bit confused, so Mary gives an example. Imagine that an African-American woman applied for a management position in the company. She was qualified for the job but was not hired. A Caucasian male was hired instead. The employee can make out a prima facie case.

Once a prima facie case is made, the burden is on the employer, who has to present some evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action. In Mary's example, the company could present evidence that the person hired for the management position had more job experience and an MBA, while the African-American applicant did not.

If the employer submits evidence of a nondiscriminatory motive, then the burden shifts once again to the employee or applicant. Here, the employee needs to prove that the employer's explanation of a nondiscriminatory reason or motive is merely a pretext. A pretext is an explanation that is given to hide the discriminatory purpose.

Mary gives the example of a female employee being fired for allegedly being late three times, but the female employee is able to establish that the employer did not fire the five male employees who also were late three times. The employer's excuse is a mere pretext, hiding the discriminatory motive behind firing the female employee.

Disparate Impact

Just when Linus thought he had a handle on employment discrimination, Mary introduces the topic of disparate impact. An employer can be found to have discriminated even if the employer dutifully uses apparently neutral criteria in all of its employment decisions under the disparate impact theory of liability. Under this theory, an employer can be liable for employment discrimination if its employment policies or procedures have the effect of adversely affecting members of a protected class.

For example, a policy that ends up precluding members of a certain race will constitute discrimination. Mary emphasizes to Linus that a discriminatory motive is not necessary for liability under this theory. Once the disparate impact has been established, an employer must be able to justify the policy or procedure causing the disparate impact as a business necessity. For example, an engineering company's engineering educational requirements for hiring engineers may create a disparate impact, but the policy is a business necessity for the hiring of engineers.

Handling a Charge of Discrimination

Mary does note that before an employee or applicant can even file a discrimination lawsuit, a charge must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An employer facing a charge of discrimination needs to cooperate with the EEOC. Once a charge is filed, the EEOC will provide notice, and the employer should file a statement of position. This is the company's chance to explain the situation.

The EEOC will probably make a request for information, which may include a copy of the company's employment policies and procedures, as well as the employee's personnel file. The EEOC may visit the work site and interview relevant witnesses, such as managers and co-workers. The EEOC will also offer the parties a chance to mediate before the investigation concludes.

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