HR Guide to the Internet:
EEO: Protected Classes

Protected Classes Title VII prohibits discrimination on account of:
  1. Race or Color This category includes blacks, whites, persons of Latino or Asian origin or descent, and indigenous Americans (Eskimos, Native Hawaiians, Native Americans). The prohibition on discrimination based on "color" also has been interpreted by some courts to mean that a light-skinned black worker could pursue a discrimination case based on the actions of her darker-skinned supervisor. See, e.g., Walker v. Secretary of Treasury, IRS, 742 F. Supp. 670 (N.D. Ga. 1990), aff'd, 953 F.2d 650 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 853 (1992).

  2. National Origin The Supreme Court has interpreted national origin as referring to "the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came." Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Co., 414 U.S. 86, 88 (1973). The term does not include discrimination based solely on a person's citizenship. Id.; Fortino v. Quasar Co., 950 F.2d 389, 392 (7th Cir. 1991).

    The courts have generally upheld requirements that an employee be able to communicate in English, where the requirement is job-related. See, e.g., Garcia v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 660 F.2d 1217, 1222 (7th Cir. 1981). The EEOC's position is that a rule requiring bi-lingual employees to only speak English at work is a "burdensome term and condition of employment" that presumably violates Title VII and should be closely scrutinized. 29 C.F.R. 1606.7(a). Courts that have considered the issue, however, have generally upheld English-only rules. See, e.g., Garcia v. Spun Steak Co., 998 F.2d 1480 (9th Cir. 1993); Garcia v. Gloor, 618 F.2d 264 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1113 (1981).

    Discrimination based on national origin violates Title VII unless national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job in question. The employer must show that the discriminatory practice is "reasonably necessary to the normal operation of [the] particular business or enterprise." 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(1). The courts and the EEOC interpret the BFOQ exception very narrowly. See 29 C.F.R. 1604.2(a).

  3. Sex This provision prohibits discrimination based on gender, and applies to both men and women. Employer rules or policies that apply only to one gender violate Title VII. Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971) (rule prohibiting having children applied only to women). Employers also may not provide different benefits to women than to men. City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702 (1978). Title VII also prohibits sexual harassment, as described more fully below.

    In 1978, Congress amended Title VII to make it clear that the statute prohibited discrimination because of pregnancy. 42 U.S.C. 2000e-(k). Employers may not consider an employee's pregnancy in making employment decisions. Employers must treat pregnancy-related disabilities in a similar fashion to other disabilities that similarly affect an employee's ability to work.

    Discrimination based on sex violates Title VII unless sex is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job in question

  4. Religion The term "religion" includes "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief." 42 U.S.C. 2000e-(j). The EEOC Guidelines state that protected religious practices "include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views." 29 C.F.R. 1605.1.

    Sincerity of religious belief is an issue for the trier of fact. E.E.O.C. v. Ilona of Hungary, Inc., 97 F.3d 204 (7th Cir. 1997). The statute imposes a duty to "reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice" unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." 42 U.S.C. 2000e-(j).

    Title VII exempts from coverage a "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities." 42 U.S.C. 2000e-1(a). Religious discrimination is also not unlawful under Title VII where religion is a BFOQ for the job in question. 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(1).  

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