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Equal Employment Opportunity Regulations in the U.S.
By Sue Campbell,

As you read this article, please understand that I’m not a lawyer. This article isn’t intended to serve as legal counsel, but rather to explain, in plain terms, the Equal Employment Opportunity laws and policies enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or E.E.O.C.), as well as to act as a resource for locating further information.

Turning The World On With Her Smile

In September of 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered on CBS. During its 7-year run, it became one of the most popular and acclaimed television shows ever produced. Oprah Winfrey often credits the show with being one of her greatest inspirations. The first episode of the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show shows Mary Richards moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she secures a job with the fictional television station WJM. The job interview between Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) and her future boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), shows - with great humor - how a job interview can go awry with regard to Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

Upon entering WJM's office, Mary Richards is told by News Director, Murray Slaughter (played by Gavin MacLeod), that the position for secretary has been filled. Mr. Grant escorts Mary into his office and begins the interview...

Mary: "Has the job been filled?"

Mr. Grant: "Yeah"

Mary: "Oh?" (gets up to leave)

Mr. Grant: "But there is another job."

Mary: "Oh?" (starts to sit back down)

Mr. Grant: "I figured I'd hire a man for it."

Mary: "Oh." (stands up)

Mr. Grant: "But we can talk about it."

Mary: "Well, good." (sits down)

Mr. Grant: (looking over Mary's resume) "Hey, you live in my favorite neighborhood."

Mary: "Oh, really? I just moved in. Is it that nice?"

Mr. Grant: "Nice?! Some of the best saloons in town are over there. How old are you?"

Mary: "30."

Mr. Grant: "No hedging. No How old do I look."

Mary: "Why hedge?" (pauses) "How old do I look?"

Mr. Grant: "30. What religion are ya?"

Mary: "Uh, Mr. Grant, I don't know quite how to say this, but, uh, you're not allowed to ask that when someone's applying for a job. It's against the law."

Mr. Grant: "Wanna call a cop?"

Mary: (smiles) "No."

Mr. Grant: "Good. Would you think I was violating your Civil Rights if I asked if you're married?"

Mary: "Presbyterian." (pause) "I decided I'd answer your religion question."

Mr. Grant: "Heh. Divorced?"

Mary: "No."

Mr. Grant: "Never married - why?"

Mary: "Why?"

(They look at each other)

Mr. Grant: "Hmm. You type?"

Mary: "Mr. Grant, there's no simple answer to that question."

Mr. Grant: "Yes there is. How about "No, I can't type," or "Yes, I can?"

Mary: "There's no simple answer as to why a person isn't married."

Mr. Grant: "How many different reasons can there be?"

Mary: "65."

Mr. Grant: "Words per minute. My typing question."

Mary: "Yes."

Mr. Grant: "Look, Miss, would you try answering the questions as I ask them?"

Mary: "Yes, Mr. Grant, I will. But it does seem that you've been asking a lot of very personal questions that don't have a thing to do with my qualifications for this job."

Mr. Grant: "You know what? You got spunk!"

Mary: "Well, yes." (smiles)

Mr. Grant: "I hate spunk. Tell you what. I'll try you out for a couple of weeks, see if it works out. If I don't like you, I'll fire ya!"

Mary: "Right, right."

Mr. Grant: "If you don't like me - I'll fire ya!"

Mary: "That certainly seems fair. Uh... What's the job?"

Mr. Grant: "The job is that of Associate Producer."

Mary: "Associate..." (beams)

Mr. Grant: "Something wrong?"

Mary: "No, no, no - I like it! Associate Producer."

Mr. Grant: "The job pays ten dollars less a week than the secretarial job."

Mary: (adds it up on her fingers) "That will be fine!"

Mr. Grant: If you can get by on fifteen dollars less a week, we'll make you Producer."

Mary: "No, no. I think all I can afford is Associate Producer."

Mr. Grant: "You can start tomorrow."

Laws To Protect and Prohibit

While we enjoy watching the exchange between Mr. Grant and Mary Richards, and we find ourselves forgiving any improprieties on Mr. Grant's part, there are many laws that have been put in to place to protect workers from discrimination and to promote equal employment opportunities in the United States. These acts prohibit discrimination for or against a job applicant or existing employee based on age, race, color, religion, gender, national origin, or disability.

Keep in mind that these policies do not give special protection or consideration to minorities, or protected groups, but rather are intended to protect all workers’ opportunities, regardless of sex, race, religion, and so forth, and to demand that all persons receive the same opportunities for employment.

So while I may be turned down for a position because I don’t have the necessary qualifications to perform the job’s function: “Applicants must be able to lift 65 lbs.” I can’t be discriminated against solely on the basis that I’m female.

Most states also have their own Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA) or Commission, a list of which is included at the end of this article. According to the EEOC, “There are more than 100 state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs). The EEOC has cooperative relationships with all but a few of them. The EEOC and the FEPAs it works with have reached Work Sharing Agreements that divide up their common workload of charges in order to avoid duplication of charge processing.”

Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination

The main Acts governed by the EEOC, are:

Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) – Protects men and women who perform substantially the same work in the same establishment from suffering wage discrimination based on gender.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion or national origin.

Age Discrimination Act of 1967 (ADEA) – Protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination due to age.

Sections 501 and 505 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (EEOC link) – Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government.

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) – Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the private sector and in state and local governments.

Civil Rights Act of 1991 – Provides, among other things, monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established by Congress in 1964 to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). In addition to enforcing the above laws, the EEOC also oversees and coordinates all federal equal employment opportunity policies, practices and regulations.

The EEOC carries out its enforcement, education and technical assistance within 50 field offices serving every part of the nation. To locate the EEOC field office nearest to you, contact: 1.800.669.4000 (voice) or 1.800.669.6820 (TTY).

According to the EEOC, Under Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA, it's illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:

  • Hiring and Firing

  • Compensation, Assignment or Classification of Employees

  • Transfer, Promotion, Layoff or Recall

  • Job Advertisements

  • Recruitment

  • Testing

  • Use of Company Facilities

  • Training and Apprenticeship Programs

  • Fringe Benefits

  • Pay, Retirement Plans, and Disability Leave

  • Or other terms and conditions of employment

Discriminatory practices under these laws also include:

  • Harassment based on age, race, color, gender, religion, disability, or national origin

  • Retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices

  • Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the traits, abilities, or performance of individuals of certain age, sex, race, religion, ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities

  • Denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability.

Other discriminatory practices covered may be found on the EEOC Website: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination: Questions and Answers.

Employers Covered by Equal Employment Opportunity Laws

Title VII (protects men and women who perform substantially the same work in the same establishment from suffering wage discrimination based on gender), and ADA laws (prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government) apply to all private employers, educational institutions, and state and local governments who employ 15 or more personnel.

These laws also cover labor organizations, private and public employment agencies, and joint labor management committees that control training and apprenticeship opportunities.

The ADEA (protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination due to age) covers all private employers with 20 or more personnel, labor organizations, employment agencies, and state and local governments (including school districts).

The EPA (protects men and women who perform substantially the same work in the same establishment from suffering wage discrimination based on gender – equal pay) covers all employers who are covered by the Federal Wage and Hour Law (the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA). Virtually all employers are subject to the provisions set forth by this act.

Filing A Complaint with the EEOC and/or a state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA)

Typically, when an applicant or employee believes he or she has been discriminated against, the applicant/employee will contact the EEOC or the appropriate state’s fair employment practice agency. The complaint must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation. To locate an EEOC field office nearest to you, see the EEOC field list and map, or contact: 1.800.669.4000 (voice) or 1.800.669.6820 (TTY). This deadline can be extended to 300 days if the complaint is also covered under a state or local anti-discrimination law (see list of state agencies).

For claims under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), this time limitation does not apply. However, since many EPA claims also fall under other discrimination laws, such as age, gender, or disability, it’s wise to file any complaint within the time limit indicated.

The contacted agency then reviews the complaint to determine if there’s a *prima facie case (*on first appearance”). In most legal proceedings, one of the parties has the burden of proof, which requires the party to present prima facie evidence of all facts essential to his or her complaint. If the party fails to present prima facie evidence on any required element of his or her case, the claim may be dismissed without any response by the opposing party. If there is prima facie evidence, the agency will intercede on the plaintiff’s behalf.

Without prima facie evidence, the plaintiff may still pursue the case, but without the support of the agency.

Two Types of Discrimination

The most evident form of discrimination is called “disparate treatment” or unequal treatment. In a disparate treatment case, the applicant or employee must prove that he or she: 1) is protected under a relevant Equal Employment Opportunity statute, 2) was qualified for the job in question, and 3) was not hired or given the opportunity, while the job remained available to similarly qualified candidates. The central issue is whether or not an employer's actions were motivated by discriminatory intent, which may be proved by either direct or circumstantial evidence.

The second type of discrimination is known as “adverse impact,” or “disparate impact.” Title VII prohibits employers from using practices that may, on the surface, appear neutral, but which have an adverse and discriminatory impact against an individual or group based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin, even where an employer is not motivated by discriminatory intent.

For example, a company may use a type of pre-employment test that is later judged to be discriminatory against certain individuals or protected groups. While the company’s aims were not meant to be discriminatory (they were not motivated by discriminatory intent), the testing practice was proven to have discriminatory impact.

To learn more about what happens after a complaint is filed with the EEOC, or to find out how the EEOC resolves discrimination charges, visit the EEOC’s Questions and Answers page. The EEOC has done an outstanding job of providing detailed information.

Fair Employment Practice Agencies, By State




CALIFORNIA - (Civil Rights Enforcement Section) (Dept. Fair Employment and Housing)













































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Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help! P.O. Box 1128, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-1128 (904) 248-2493   E-mail Sue Campbell

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This page last updated: 02/02/2012