Court rulings handed down through the years have determined that a company's responsibility not to discriminate based on sex begins even before an individual is hired. Companies can be held liable if pre-employment screening or testing is determined to be discriminatory, if applications ask unacceptable questions designed to screen for sex, or if the overall selection process is deemed to be unfair. One of the main indicators that gender discrimination has occurred in the hiring process involves the qualifications of the job applicants. While a slight difference in qualifications between a female and a male candidate does not automatically indicate gender bias (if a lesser qualified male candidate is hired instead of a female candidate, that is), a drastic difference in qualifications has almost always been upheld by the courts as a sure sign of gender discrimination. For example, if a male who dropped out of high school without receiving a diploma is hired in an administrative position over a female who had obtained her master's degree, then it is likely bias was a factor.
In addition to gender discrimination in hiring and other circumstances, there is a particular form of sexual discrimination called sexual harassment. This form of discrimination involves inappropriate words or actions of a sexual nature directed at an employee by employees of the opposite sex. To meet the criteria for harassment, the behavior in question must be both unwanted and sexual in nature. The U.S. legal system has determined that there are two main types of sexual harassment. "Quid pro quo," or "this for that," occurs when one employee offers another employee a job or benefit, or threatens to deny that job or benefit, unless sexual favors are granted. A "hostile work environment" occurs when an employee, or a group of employees, repeatedly make lewd comments or suggestive noises, make unwanted sexual advances, or otherwise use sex to such a degree that the behavior interferes with another employee's ability to perform her job, or she feels intimidated or threatened on the job.
Federal Laws Strongly Prohibit Gender Discrimination
Since the social unrest of the 1960s, the federal government has been actively involved in preventing gender discrimination in the workplace. The most important law covering gender discrimination on the job is the Civil Rights Act of 1964—specifically, Title VII of that act, which strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in all aspects of employment. Written during a tumultuous period in American history when many people expected the federal government to right social wrongs, the law was a monumental piece of legislation that changed the American employment landscape.
The law was passed after heated debate in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It stated that it was unlawful for an employer to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges or employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." The law covers hiring, dismissals, compensation, and all other aspects of employment, while also covering actual employment opportunities that are available. Examples of gender discrimination or sexual harassment that would fall under the scope of the act include:
An employee who alleges that his...