Additionally, employers may be punishable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, and the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. As the federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination against applicants or employees who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, potential employment discrimination and retaliation against such individuals may be overlooked. Therefore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has set out examples to illustrate how Title VII and the ADA may apply to employment situations involving employees who experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Title VII prohibits disparate treatment based on sex, which may include treatment based on sex-based stereotypes. For example:
- An employer terminates an employee after learning she has been subjected to domestic violence, saying he fears the potential “drama battered women bring to the workplace.”
- A hiring manager, believing that only women can be true victims of domestic violence because men should be able to protect themselves, does not select a male applicant when he learns that the applicant obtained a restraining order against a male domestic partner.
- An employer allows a male employee to use unpaid leave for a court appearance in the criminal prosecution of an assault, but does not allow a similarly situated female employee to use equivalent leave to testify in the criminal prosecution of domestic violence she experienced. The employer says that the assault by a stranger is a “real crime,” whereas domestic violence is “just a marital problem” and “women think everything is domestic violence.”
Title VII prohibits sexual or sex-based harassment. Harassment may violate Title VII if it is sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment, or if it results in a “tangible employment action,” such as refusal to hire or promote, firing, or demotion. For example:
- An employee’s co-worker sits uncomfortably close to her in meetings, and has made suggestive comments. He waits for her in the dark outside the women’s bathroom and in the parking lot outside of work, and blocks her passage in the hallway in a threatening manner. He also repeatedly telephones her after hours, sends personal e-mails, and shows up outside her apartment building at night. She reports these incidents to management and complains that she feels unsafe and afraid working nearby him. In response, management transfers him to another area of the building, but he continues to subject her to sexual advances and stalking. She notifies management but no further action is taken.
- A seasonal farmworker’s supervisor learns that she has recently been subject to domestic abuse, and is now living in a shelter. Viewing her as vulnerable, he makes sexual advances, and when she refuses he terminates her.
Title VII prohibits retaliation for protected activity. Protected activity can include actions such as filing a charge of discrimination, complaining to one’s employer about job discrimination, requesting accommodation under the EEO laws, participating in an EEO investigation, or otherwise opposing discrimination. For example:
An employee files a complaint with her employer’s human resources department alleging that she was raped by a prominent company manager while on a business trip. In response, other company managers reassign her to less favorable projects, stop including her in meetings, and tell co-workers not to speak with her.
The ADA prohibits different treatment or harassment at work based on an actual or perceived impairment, which could include impairments resulting from domestic or dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. For example:
- An employer searches an applicant’s name online and learns that she was a complaining witness in a rape prosecution and received counseling for depression. The employer decides not to hire her based on a concern that she may require future time off for continuing symptoms or further treatment of depression.
- An employee has facial scarring from skin grafts, which were necessary after she was badly burned in an attack by a former domestic partner. When she returns to work after a lengthy hospitalization, co-workers subject her to frequent abusive comments about the skin graft scars, and her manager fails to take any action to stop the harassment.
The ADA may require employers to provide reasonable accommodation requested for an actual disability or a “record of” a disability. An actual disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (which include major bodily functions). A “record of” a disability is a past history of a substantially limiting impairment. An impairment does not need to result in a high degree of functional limitation in order to be “substantially limiting.” A reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace or in the way things are usually done that an individual needs because of a disability and may include time off for treatment, modified work schedules, and reassignment to a vacant position. For example:
- An employee who has no accrued sick leave and whose employer is not covered by the FMLA requests a schedule change or unpaid leave to get treatment for depression and anxiety following a sexual assault by an intruder in her home. The employer denies the request because it “applies leave and attendance policies the same way to all employees.”
- In the aftermath of stalking by an ex-boyfriend who works in the same building, an employee develops major depression that her doctor states is exacerbated by continuing to work in the same location as the ex-boyfriend. As a reasonable accommodation for her disability, the employee requests reassignment to an available vacant position for which she is qualified at a different location operated by the employer. The employer denies the request, citing its “no transfer” policy.
The ADA prohibits disclosure of confidential medical information.
- An employee who is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from incest requests reasonable accommodation. Her supervisor then tells the employee’s co-workers about her medical condition.
The ADA prohibits retaliation or interference with an employee’s exercise of his or her rights under the statute.
- In the prior example, the employee tells the supervisor she intends to complain to human resources about his unlawful disclosure of confidential medical information. The supervisor warns that if she complains, he will deny her the pay raise she is due to receive later that year.