Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964


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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Most jobs in the United States are considered to be “at-will employment,” which means that employers can fire workers for almost any reason except for illegal reasons such as unlawful discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the primary federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of the following:


  • Race

  • Color

  • Religion

  • National origin

  • Sex, including gender, pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation


Practices or policies that may seem neutral can also be unlawful if they discriminate against people because of their religion, race, color, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, national origin, or gender identity. Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in any aspect of employment, including:


  • Recruitment and job advertisements

  • Hiring and firing

  • Promotion, recall, transfer, or layoff

  • Assignment, compensation, or classification of workers

  • Job applications

  • Use of employer facilities

  • Employment testing

  • Retirement plans, benefits, and leave

  • Apprenticeship and training programs

  • Other conditions and terms of employment


Under Title VII, it is illegal for public or private sector employers with 15 or more employees to take “adverse employment action,” such as refusing to hire applicants, firing employees, refusing to promote existing employees, or demoting workers based on protected characteristics. If employers make an illegal employment decision, they are at risk of discrimination claims and lawsuits. 


Additionally, Title VII establishes that it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate or take adverse action against an employee or job applicant if they:


  • File a discrimination charge with an agency such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

  • Complain either formally or informally about discrimination.

  • Participate as a witness in an employment discrimination lawsuit or investigation.


Title VII also disallows employers from:


  • Harassing employees because of color, race, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin

  • Making employment decisions based on assumptions or stereotypes about someone’s abilities, performance, or traits due to their race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin

  • Failing or refusing to make reasonable adjustments to workplace practices or policies that allow employees to observe their sincerely held religious beliefs

  • Denying job opportunities based on whether a person is associated with or married to a person of a particular color, race, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin


People with disabilities aren’t protected under Title VII because The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities. Title VII also doesn’t offer protection on the basis of age. Rather, people over the age of 40 are protected by The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967


Title VII is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Employment Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). If the EEOC refers a complaint to the DOJ, the Attorney General will bring a lawsuit under Title VII against a state and local government employers if there is reason to believe that the policy or practice of an employer discriminates against employees or a group of job applicants based on their protected characteristics. 



Title VII violations can be made by anyone within a company, including non-employees and clients. Some examples of Title VII violations include:


  • Denying job opportunities to a qualified applicant from a protected group so that the position can be filled with a Caucasian applicant with the same qualifications

  • Refusing to allow people to pray when their religion requires them to pray at specific times during the day 

  • Telling racist jokes either verbally or via email

  • Insisting that every team member speaks English, even if speaking English is irrelevant to their job duties 

  • Inappropriate touching by either male or female employees 

  • Making sexist comments such as a woman belonging in a secretarial role instead of an executive role 

  • Using any type of racial slurs or language


Related Terms

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

is a federal agency responsible for enforcing several federal laws that prohibit discrimination or harassment against job applicants or employees in the U.S.

Executive Order 11246 – Equal Employment Opportunity

applies to federal government-assisted construction contractors and federal government contractors, along with subcontractors, who do more than $10,000 in business with the federal government in one year. These employers are prohibited by Executive Order 11246 from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on race, color, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination against pregnant women. Congress enacted The Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

prohibits age discrimination against people aged 40 and older. The EEOC enforces this law.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

protects people with disabilities from discrimination in every area of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation. This protection extends to public and private areas open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities.