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Discrimination Types Basises | Civil Rights Division | NRCS

Age Discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

For additional information on Age Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.

Color Discrimination

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination because of color as a basis separately listed in the statute. The statute does not define color.  The courts and the Commission read color to have its commonly understood meaning pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone. Thus, color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person. Even though race and color clearly overlap, they are not synonymous. Thus, color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity.

EXAMPLE 1 COLOR-BASED HARASSMENT James, a light-complexioned African American, has worked as a waiter at a restaurant for over a year. His manager, a brown-complexioned African American, has frequently made offensive comments and jokes about James skin color, causing him to lose sleep and dread coming in to work. James requests that the conduct stop only intensified the abuse. James has been subjected to harassment in the form of a hostile work environment, based on his color.

EXAMPLE 2 COLOR-BASED EMPLOYMENT DECISIONS Melanie, a brown-complexioned Latina, works as a sales clerk for a major department store. She applies for a promotion to be the Counter Manager for a major line of beauty products, but the employer denies her the promotion because the vendor prefers a light skinned representative to manage its product line at this particular location. The employer has unlawfully discriminated on the basis of color. Throughout the remainder of this Manual Section, the term race, rather than color, generally is used. This is done for stylistic reasons, as well as to reflect that many more race claims are made each year than color claims. However, the same analysis apply to both race and color.

For additional information on Color Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.

National Origin Discrimination

National origin discrimination means treating someone less favorably because he or she comes from a particular place, because of his or her ethnicity or accent, or because it is believed that he or she has a particular ethnic background. National origin discrimination also means treating someone less favorably at work because of marriage or other association with someone of a particular nationality.

For additional information on National Origin Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.

Religious Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII further states:

  • Employers may not treat employees or applicants more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices - except to the extent a religious accommodation is warranted. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire individuals of a certain religion, may not impose stricter promotion requirements for persons of a certain religion, and may not impose more or different work requirements on an employee because of that employee's religious beliefs or practices.

  • Employees cannot be forced to participate -- or not participate -- in a religious activity as a condition of employment.

  • Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. An employer might accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices by allowing: flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments and lateral transfers, modification of grooming requirements and other workplace practices, policies and/or procedures.

  • An employer is not required to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and practices if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employers' legitimate business interests. An employer can show undue hardship if accommodating an employee's religious practices requires more than ordinary administrative costs, diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees' job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, causes co-workers to carry the accommodated employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work, or if the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation.

  • Employers must permit employees to engage in religious expression, unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Generally, an employer may not place more restrictions on religious expression than on other forms of expression that have a comparable effect on workplace efficiency.

  • Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their employees. An employer can reduce the chance that employees will engage unlawful religious harassment by implementing an anti-harassment policy and having an effective procedure for reporting, investigating and correcting harassing conduct.

For additional information on Religious Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.


An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise "retaliate" against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.

Participation in an employment discrimination proceeding - Participation means taking part in an employment discrimination proceeding. Participation is protected activity even if the proceeding involved claims that ultimately were found to be invalid.

For additional information on Reprisal/Retaliation go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.

Disability Discrimination

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, protects qualified employees and applicants with disabilities in the Executive Branch of the Federal government from employment discrimination based on disability. In 1992, the substantive employment standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 12111, et seq., were made applicable to the Federal Government through the Rehabilitation Act. The amended law requires Federal employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities. It requires Federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental limitations of qualified employees and applicants, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. The law also ensures equal access to Federal programs, activities, and facilities to people with disabilities.

Who is an individual with a disability?

An individual with a disability:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities;

  • has a record of such an impairment; or

  • is regarded as having such impairment.

What is a major life activity?

A major life activity is a function that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty. Major life activities include activities such as caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, speaking, learning, sitting, standing, lifting, reaching, and working.

Who is a qualified individual with a disability?

A qualified individual with a disability has the skills, experience, education, and other requirements of the job the individual holds or desires, and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

What happens if the disability is not obvious?

When the disability and/or the need for accommodation is not obvious, the employer may ask the individual for reasonable documentation about his/her disability and functional limitations. An employer should respond expeditiously to a request for reasonable accommodation.

What is an undue hardship?

An agency is not required to make an accommodation if it can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its everyday operations. An undue hardship is an action that requires "significant difficulty or expense" in relation to:

  • overall size of the agency's program with respect to the number of employees, number and type of facilities and size of budget;

  • type of operation, including the composition and structure of the agency's workforce; and

  • nature and cost of the accommodation.

For additional information on Disability Discrimination go to the NRCS Civil Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpages.

Sex Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex. It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of his/her sex in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals on the basis of sex. Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination and neutral job policies that disproportionately exclude individuals on the basis of sex and that are not job related.

Title VII's prohibitions against sex-based discrimination also cover:

  • Sexual Harassment
    This includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment.

  • Pregnancy Based Discrimination
    Title VII was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

For additional information on Sex Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.

Race Discrimination

Title VII prohibits employer actions that discriminate, by motivation or impact, against persons because of race. Title VII does not contain a definition of race, nor has the Commission adopted one. For the collection of federal data on race and ethnicity, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has provided the following five racial categories: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White; and one ethnicity category, Hispanic or Latino. OMB has made clear that these categories are social-political constructs . . . and should not be interpreted as being genetic, biological, or anthropological in nature.

Title VII prohibition of race discrimination generally encompasses:

Ancestry: Employment discrimination because of racial or ethnic ancestry. Discrimination against a person because of his or her ancestry can violate Title VII prohibition against race discrimination. Note that there can be considerable overlap between race and national origin, but they are not identical. For example, discrimination against a Chinese American might be targeted at her Asian ancestry and not her Chinese national origin. In that case, she would have a claim of discrimination based on race, not national origin. Physical Characteristics: Employment discrimination based on a person physical characteristics associated with race, such as a person color, hair, facial features, height and weight.

Race-linked Illness: Discrimination based on race-linked illnesses. For example, sickle cell anemia is a genetically-transmitted disease that affects primarily persons of African descent. Other diseases, while not linked directly to race or ethnicity, may nevertheless have a disproportionate impact. For example, Native Hawaiians have a disproportionately high incidence of diabetes. If the employer applies facially neutral standards to exclude treatment for conditions or risks that disproportionately affect employees on the basis of race or ethnicity, the employer must show that the standards are based on generally accepted medical criteria.

Culture: Employment discrimination because of cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against a person because of cultural characteristics often linked to race or ethnicity, such as a person name, cultural dress and grooming practices, or accent or manner of speech. For example, an employment decision based on a person having a so-called black accent, or sounding White, violates Title VII if the accent or manner of speech does not materially interfere with the ability to perform job duties.

Perception: Employment discrimination against an individual based on a belief that the individual is a member of a particular racial group, regardless of how the individual identifies himself. Discrimination against an individual based on a perception of his or her race violates Title VII even if that perception is wrong.

Association: Employment discrimination against an individual because of his/her association with someone of a particular race. For example, it is unlawful to discriminate against a White person because he or she is married to an African American or has a multiracial child, or because he or she maintains friendships or otherwise associates with persons of a certain race.

Subgroup or race Plus: Title VII prohibits discrimination against a subgroup of persons in a racial group because they have certain attributes in addition to their race. Thus, for example, it would violate Title VII for an employer to reject Black women with preschool age children, while not rejecting other women with preschool age children.

Reverse Race Discrimination: Title VII prohibits race discrimination against all persons, including Caucasians. A plaintiff may prove a claim of discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence. Some courts, however, take the position that if a White person relies on circumstantial evidence to establish a reverse discrimination claim, he or she must meet a heightened standard of proof. The Commission, in contrast, applies the same standard of proof to all race discrimination claims, regardless of the victim race or the type of evidence used. In either case, the ultimate burden of persuasion remains always on the plaintiff.

For additional information on Race Discrimination go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) webpage.