A Brief History of Gender Discrimination Laws and Milestones

women's rights
*Photo Attribution: Molly Adams

It has been nearly 60 years since the Women’s Liberation Movement began in 1960 and the birth control pill was federally approved, thereby allowing women more freedom to make life and career choices. As the movement progressed and women began entering the paid workforce in higher numbers than ever in American history, cries over disparity in pay, promotion denials, sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, and gender-based discrimination grew louder and more persistent.

Though equal pay legislation was passed in 1963, women continue to earn 60 percent of what men are paid for the same work. Over the ensuing decades, while improvements have been made in the treatment of women employees, they are still sometimes denied access to fair pay and equal, respectful, and decent treatment.

Additional protections were put in place, beginning with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, (Pub. L. 88-352) which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” Further protections were covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Pub. L. 102-166) and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (Pub. L. 111-2) which “provides for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages in cases of intentional violations of Title VII.

While Title VII provides protection against gender discrimination, the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act protections are more favorable to our state’s employees. The other protections have monetary damage caps, limited attorney fee provisions, restrictive legal burdens of proof and other special employer defenses. Also, federal law requires the employee to file a complaint through the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory violation. California Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) allows for a full year to file a complaint and may work more cooperatively with harmed employees. 

In the 21st century, the gender revolution has led to dramatic changes in our views of gender equality, opening the door to include protections for LBGT, transsexual, and transgender employees from discrimination. Also, although rare, when a heterosexual man is discriminated against in the workplace because of his gender, the protections apply to him.

Both the federal and California laws against gender discrimination are complex, specific, and detailed and provide numerous protections. But proving discrimination and enforcing the laws are a challenging process. Staying informed about your rights as an employee to not be discriminated against because of gender is essential to ensuring you are protected and knowing when you should seek legal help.

What defines gender discrimination? In simple language, it occurs when either an applicant or employee is treated unfairly because of their sex, usually with an adverse employment action or sexual harassment. While initially these laws primarily protected women in the workplace, they are also designed to protect individuals who are discriminated against because of gender identity, including transgender status, and sexual orientation. In these times when non-heterosexual individuals are provided with the same protections as heterosexuals, equal employment laws apply to them as well.

As defined by the law, the terms “gender” and “sex” have two different meanings. Usually, “sex” refers to a person’s biological and anatomical identity as female or male. “Gender” refers to characteristics that are culturally associated with being male or female.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces existing gender discrimination laws as described in Title VII that apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender applicants and employees against employment prejudice.

Today, all forms of gender discrimination in the workplace are illegal whether toward a person who identifies as heterosexual, homosexual, LGBT, transgender, or transsexual. Therefore, under Title VII and California employment laws, sex discrimination forbids gender discrimination during hiring, firing, pay, job responsibilities, promotions, benefits, training, layoffs, and any other term or condition of employment. It is also illegal to harass an individual because of their gender, which may include sexual language, sexual requests and advances, and verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The harassment does not have to be explicitly sexual and can include insulting and offensive gender comments. The level of harassment must be frequent in severity and create a hostile work environment for the employee or result in termination of the victim. The offender can include a supervisor, fellow employee, a client or customer who has not been properly dealt with.

Title VII provides further protections for LGBT-related claims that include the following: discrimination against a transgender person or an employee planning to make a gender transition; denying an employee bathroom access that corresponds to their gender identity; harassing an employee because of a gender transition; denying a promotion or pay increase based on sexual orientation; denying equal terms, conditions, and privileges such as a lower salary or denied spousal health insurance; or verbal sexual harassment.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), is responsible for enforcing state gender discrimination laws. When an employee files a gender discrimination complaint, it is illegal for employers of five or more employees to discriminate against job applicants and employees because of a protected category or retaliate against them because they have asserted their rights under the law.

Further protections are provided under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) which requires employers of 50 or more employees to hold a job during an employee’s leave for the birth of a child; for the arrival of an adopted or foster child or in the event of a serious health condition of an employee’s child, parent, or spouse. Employers of five or more employees must provide up to four months disability leave for an employee who is disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

In addition, employers of 50 or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment training to managers and supervisors.
As is historically clear, gender does not determine the ability to perform a job. Yet, discrimination because of gender continues. When you’ve been a victim of gender discrimination, there may be remedies available to you such as:

  • Lost earnings

  • Future lost earnings

  • Hiring/Job reinstatement

  • Promotions

  • Policy changes

  • Training

  • Attorney fees and costs

  • Expert witness fees

  • Psychological treatment

  • Emotional distress

  • Punitive damages

To determine whether you have a legitimate gender discrimination case against your current, prospective, or past employer, it’s advisable that you speak with an experienced gender discrimination attorney. With over 30 years’ experience fighting for the rights of California’s wrongfully treated employees, the V. James DeSimone law firm has the resources, skills, and documented history of multi-million dollar wins to ensure the effective representation you need.

It’s important not to delay contacting us, there are short time limits for when you can file a claim or civil lawsuit. Call us today at 310-693-5561 to schedule a personal meeting with one of our gender discrimination attorneys. At all times, you will be treated with respect and compassion through what we know is a traumatic and difficult process.

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