Title VII, the federal law that prohibits most workplace harassment and discrimination, covers all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with 15 or more employees. In addition to prohibiting discrimination against workers because of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex, those protections have been extended to include barring against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, sex stereotyping, and sexual harassment of employees. Currently, Title VII doesn’t include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
However federal legislation adding sexual orientation as a protected class against discrimination (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)), has been proposed in recent years. Many states have employment discrimination and harassment laws as well and may include even more protected classes – such as marital status and sexual orientation – than Title VII covers. Title VII and the EEOC Before an employee can file a complaint against an employer under Title VII, he first must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
If the EEOC finds that the employee’s claim has merit, it may sue on his behalf. Otherwise, it will issue him a “right-to-sue” letter, and he then can file a complaint and begin the litigation process. Employees and the EEOC can sue for lost wages, benefits, reinstatement, and attorneys’ fees. Compensatory damages (damages for wages and emotional distress) are “capped” by Title VII and the amount allowed per employee will vary depending on the size of the employer.