What is Title VII? Discrimination in the Workplace

What is Title VIIIf you are in the workforce or will be soon, you should know about Title VII, the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protects employees from discrimination in the workplace. Title VII protects people from being discriminated against due to their color, race, religion, sex, or national origin. More specifically, Title VII prohibits employers from hiring and firing to the aforementioned and also makes it illegal to segregate, classify or limit the opportunities of employees for these reasons. It is in these areas below that employers may discriminate:


  • Promotion
  • Hiring
  • Job assignment
  • Termination
  • Compensation
  • Retaliation
  • Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than fifteen employees, labor organizations and employment agencies. Age is not included in Title VII, but age discrimination and disability discrimination are covered in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, respectively.

Title VII Claims

The court system recognizes two types of Title VII claims: disparate treatment and disparate impact. Disparate treatment is the most often named claim as it’s much easier to understand and prove. Disparate treatment simply means that one person or group was treated differently than another. For example, if all the Caucasian employees are given keys to the company gym and the African American and Hispanic employees were not, this would clearly be an example of disparate treatment. Disparate impact means that one group is impacted more greatly by an employer’s hiring practices or promotion practices. For example, if an employer looking for day laborers puts on the application that you must be able to lift XX amount of weight and carry it XX feet, that may significantly exclude many female applicants from the job. This would be an example of disparate impact. If the women were hired and then were treated more harshly or were not paid the same as men–that would be an example of disparate treatment. There is one exception to this “rule”: Discrimination by an employer is allowed when there is a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ)–an employer can favor one employee over another when the trait of essence is the job duty. The most notable example of BFOQ would be hiring a female to model women’s clothing.

Filing a Title VII Claim

In order to sue an employer in court, you must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Also, states require that you submit your claim within a certain number of days of the alleged violation of civil rights (usually 300 days; sometimes as little as 180 days). After the claim is filed, the EEOC or state agency will undertake some form of investigation. You cannot bring a claim in court until you are issued a “right to sue letter” from the EEOC. Receiving this letter means that you may pursue your claim in the appropriate court; it does not mean the EEOC determined you have a case against your employer.

Damages Under Title VII

If an employee wins a claim, damages may be paid to said employee. Back pay is the most common and includes wages, salary and fringe benefits the employee would have earned during the period of discrimination from the termination date to the trial date. Compensatory damages are allowed for future loss, emotional distress, pain & suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. “Caps” (limits) are placed on compensatory damages and are as follows:

  • Up to 100 employees: $50,000
  • 101-200 employees: $100,000
  • 201-500 employees: $200,000
  • 500 + employees: $300,000

Caps only apply on individual claims; class action suits, on the other hand, have no caps so plaintiffs may be awarded the maximum amount specified for the company’s size. Punitive damages are limited to cases in which the “employer has engaged in intentional discrimination and has done so with malice or reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual.” Punitive damages are also capped according to size of the company and are the same as above. Front pay is designed to help victims get to their “rightful place,” and compensates for anticipated future losses due to discrimination. Attorneys’ fees may be awarded to the “winner,” also.

If you feel you have been discriminated in the workplace, you should do some research and contact the EEOC office near you.

Colorado Christian University prides itself in providing an equal education opportunity for all students regardless of race, religion and national origin. Whether your 18 or 68, CCU’s doors are open to you!





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  1. Joseph McGuire says:

    One major problems with Title VII is that it still allows (or at least does not expressly forbid) companies from discriminating against people who are overweight. Weight discrimination is far more common than people are willing to admit and the majority of people believe that overweight people are overweight by choice and unlike other disabilities and overweight person can simply choose to stop being overweight.

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