Protected Classes and Discrimination

There are five laws which form the basis of Equal Employment Opportunity law. They prohibit discrimination on the basis of:

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • national origin
  • disability
  • veteran’s status

This protection extends to any terms and conditions, or privileges of employment. Explanations of these laws can be found on the EEOC Web site.

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the Pregnancy Disability Act of 1978.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991.

These laws were passed to address discrimination issues faced by job-seekers and employees who were being treated differently to other employees, based on something other than job performance. However, the law does not protect every kind of discrimination. For example, if an employer decided to only hire left-handed people, right-handed people would have difficulty pursuing their case through the legal system, since right-handed people are not specifically protected by any employment legislation.


An action does not need to be intentional to be discriminatory, it only needs to produce a disparate effect on members of a protected group. Imagine that an employer decided to only hire people with naturally blond hair. Since caucasians are the only ethnic group with naturally blond hair, such a decision would discriminate against job-seekers of every other ethnic backgroud, and would be illegal.

Sometimes, people who belong to protected classes seem to get preferential treatment, and that’s because they do — sometimes. If a company is rightsizing and it lays off everyone over 50, the company runs the risk of being sued for age discrimination. If a company refuses to interview candidates who are not natural-born citizens, or never promotes practicing Wiccans, the law says that those people who are discriminated against should have the same opportunities as everyone else.

The impact on protected classes should be weighed in every hiring, firing, promotion, job creation, and downsizing decision. Creating a job in a location that does not have wheel-chair access would be discriminatory, in the same way that firing someone for admitting their homosexuality would be illegal.

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