Federal employment discrimination laws, and related retaliation laws, date back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first federal law to prohibit race discrimination in employment. Five years later, the government passed the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide redress for discriminatory action taken by the government, but few people brought claims under the law for nearly a century. For the most part, the federal government also failed to pass new, significant employment discrimination laws over that same time period.
That changed in the 1960s, when the government enacted several key statutes:
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 – prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination in employment;
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color and sex; and
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – prohibiting age discrimination.
The Evolution of Federal Laws Against Employment Discrimination
Over the next three decades, the federal government continued the trend of expanding employees’ protections from discrimination and retaliation, amending and expanding the 1960s-era laws and passing:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 – providing for the creation of safety standards and protecting employees who report safety violations;
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – prohibiting disability discrimination for federal government workers;
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – prohibiting employers from hiring only U.S. citizens unless required to do so by law;
- The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 – prohibiting disability discrimination and requires reasonable accommodations;
- The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 – prohibiting discrimination against employees who take protected medical leave; and
- The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”) – prohibiting employers from discriminating against individuals who have served in the armed services.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”) is arguably the most significant new employment discrimination law passed since USERRA. GINA prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information, such as an individual’s or a family member’s genetic tests and family medical history.
As the law continues to evolve, we continue to advocate for employees who face discrimination.