HR Alert: What is Title VII?

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You know from our previous blog that the EEOC is tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, and disability. The EEOC mainly addresses violations of Title VII, which is a federal law.

So, what exactly is Title VII and how does it apply to you?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is one of the principal federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination. The FTC puts it this way: the law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex (including gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity). Title VII also prohibits harassment as a form of discrimination as well as retaliation.

What’s a private employer under Title VII?

Title VII defines a private employer as a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce that has at least 15 employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year including any agent of a covered person. The 15-employee threshold and definition of industry affecting commerce do not apply to the federal government as an employer.

Who’s covered by Title VII?

Title VII protects employees (including former employees) and applicants for employment. It includes individuals employed within the United States, US citizens working abroad for US employers, and US-controlled companies. It doesn’t cover foreign nationals working abroad for US-controlled companies, US citizens working abroad for non-US-controlled companies or independent contractors or others with no employment relationship to the employer. NOTE: New York law protects independent contractors working in New York State.

It may seem like an odd definition, but under Title VII an employee is defined as “an individual employed by an employer.” This definition applies when (1) determining whether an individual is an employee covered by Title VII’s protections, and (2) we’re determining if an employer meets the 15-employee threshold for employer coverage.

What conduct is prohibited by Title VII?

Title VII prohibits a broad range of discriminatory employer conduct based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex (including gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity).

What are theories under which employers are held accountable?

The main ways employers can be held responsible under Title VIII are:

  • Disparate treatment or impact
  • A pattern or practice of discrimination
  • Failure to accommodate
  • Harassment
  • Negligence
  • Retaliation

What are possible consequences employers may face?

  • Injunctive relief
  • Back pay
  • Reinstatement
  • Compensatory and punitive damages
  • Attorneys’ fees

Practice Pointers

This blog provides the basics on Title VII, and every employer across the US that meets the 15-employee threshold should pay attention. And just wait – there will be more!

As we kick-off our Employment Law 101 series, follow along for some practice pointers to help you avoid any possible penalties. Title VII claims can vary widely from blatant scenes of racism to subtle management mistakes when placing employees on leave for valid reasons.

Be sure to take caution when walking unknown territory in employment situations and feel free to reach out to the team at The Coppola Firm for guidance.

If you have any questions about Title VII or any other laws affecting your business, reach out to us at 716.839.9700 or email us at


Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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