The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sex discrimination as the practice of treating employees or job applicants unfavorably because of their sex. In 2020, the United States Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) includes employment discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. Title VII also prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy. Title VII protects all current and former workers (including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees), if the business in question has 15 or more employees. It does not cover independent contractors. Though employees of companies with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by Title VII, in California individuals also are protected by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which applies to companies with five or more employees.

How Does Sex Discrimination Present in the Workplace?

Sex discrimination may include discriminatory conduct regarding hiring, firing, promotions, demotions, discipline, work assignments, compensation rates, benefits, and other conditions of employment. It also may include severe or pervasive harassment, whether quid pro quo or creating a hostile work environment. Sex discrimination is not dependent upon specific gender identity combinations; in other words, a man can discriminate against a woman, a woman can discriminate against a man, and they both also can discriminate against members of their own sex or against members of a non-binary gender identity.

Similarly, policies or practices that aim to be gender-neutral and apply equally to all employees, regardless of sex, are not necessarily compliant with the prohibition against sex discrimination. If a policy disproportionately affects members of a certain sex and is not necessary to the successful operation of a business, it may be in violation of Title VII. An employer’s discriminatory practice cannot be justified by evidence that customers or clients prefer to work with people of a certain gender identity or sexual orientation. According to the EEOC, covered employers cannot require transgender employees to dress in keeping with their sex as assigned at birth. Employers can separate and sex-segregate bathrooms for men and women if they choose, but according to the EEOC, they cannot prohibit employees from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Sex Discrimination: How We Can Help

The employment attorneys at Payne & Fears have decades of experience handling sex discrimination claims brought under Title VII, as well as those brought under other related federal and state laws. That said, we believe it is preferable to avoid the filing of legal claims for sex discrimination wherever possible. We work with clients to develop action plans designed to reduce the risk of sex discrimination claims. This effort includes helping to draft robust anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. We also help clients coordinate internal labor and employment investigations where necessary. We develop employee training for companies seeking to reduce their risk of discrimination claims. This training extends to employees at the management, supervisory, and/or any other level of employment.

Payne & Fears defends employers facing sex discrimination matters across a broad spectrum of industries. We know the number of laws and actions regarding workplace discrimination has grown in recent years and make it our business to help clients reduce their risk of facing sex discrimination claims. When a sex discrimination legal issue arises, we help clients defend against claims, whether before a regulatory agency such as the EEOC or as litigation in state or federal court.