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What Constitutes Gender Discrimination in the Workplace?


The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines gender discrimination, or sex discrimination, as employer practices that treat someone unfavorably based on that person’s sex. Sexual discrimination is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and covers current employees as well as those seeking employment.

What Constitutes Gender Discrimination in the Workplace?

Following is an at-a-glance examples of what may possibly be considered gender discrimination. For an in-depth look at the legal wording, see the full Civil Rights Act of 1964 document located at the US Equal Opportunity Commission website.

Sex as a bona fide occupational qualification: An employer may not hire or terminate based on gender unless the position requires a particular gender. Hiring men to lift heavy boxes is not a bona fide occupational qualification as it assumes that all men can perform this job, while all women cannot. An example where the employer may hire a specific gender would be a male being hired to model a man’s clothing line.

Separate lines of progression for seniority systems: Unless the gender for a job is classified as a bona fide occupational qualification, a seniority system may not be based on gender.

Discrimination against married women: Likely more prevalent decades ago, a person’s marital status is not a basis for discrimination where the opposite gender, also married, is held to different standards. As an example, married men are invited on business trips where married women are not.

Equal pay for equal work: The Equal Pay Act, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, prohibits employers from paying different wages for the same position based on gender. A job may pay different wages as long as the basis for the wage difference is not gender related but relies on a system where both men and women are treated equally such as a seniority system, a merit system, or a system measuring quality or quantity of production.

Fringe benefits: An employer may not give benefits based on gender. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act to include women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The act states that these conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. As an example, a woman does not have to use her vacation time to cover her pregnancy leave if the company offers short-term disability benefits to a male suffering from a heart attack.




Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Sex-Based Discrimination

| Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School
United States Code: Title 29,206. Minimum wage

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