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Application of the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminatory treatment of workers by their employers. Any business with 15 or more workers is an "employer" that must comply with antidiscrimination laws. An "employer" is the federal government, state and local governments, governmental agencies, political subdivisions, unions and education institutions accepting public monies.

SIDEBAR: Exceptions have been made in some cases where membership in a certain religion is required for employment within a religious organization. In those situations, the employer is permitted to discriminate against nonmembers in its hiring practices. For instance, a Catholic school is legally permitted to ask applicants their religion and hire only members of the Catholic faith as teachers and instructors.

Do I have to be an employee to sue under the Civil Rights Act?

No. Not only does the Act prohibit discrimination in employment, it prohibits discrimination in receiving the benefit of law and legal proceedings, the making and enforcing of contracts, and the right to sue and to be sued.

SIDEBAR: Allegations of discrimination that do not occur in an employment context are known as "Section 1981" claims. Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act gives equal rights to all persons under the law and prohibits discriminatory treatment by the government and public entities.

A local restaurant refused to seat my husband and me because we are of different races. Is this illegal?

Yes. The restaurant violated the Civil Rights Act and you have a Section 1981 claim for discrimination on the basis of race.

My wife is a Muslim who dresses in traditional clothing, and our local grocery store refuses to cash her check. Is this discrimination?

Yes. Your wife is being discriminated against because of her religion. You can claim a civil rights violation under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act.

Why can a private golf club be open only to white men?

A private club is not a public accommodation such as a store, bank, restaurant, school or city pool.

SIDEBAR: A private club is only "private" if it has truly selective criteria in permitting memberships. Requirements that new members be voted in by the club are not selective criteria, nor are requirements for completed applications and interviews. The number of members (small), approval for new members (rare) and long-term memberships in a club tend to make it private. For instance, a lodge with 25 members, 20 of which have been in the club for 30 years and where the last new member was admitted 5 years ago is a private club.

What is a Title VII claim?

Title VII is the portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination in employment. If you are not in the position of an "employee" in making your claim, you cannot make a claim of discrimination under Title VII.

Am I an employee under the Civil Rights Act if I sell cosmetics for a national company?

No. If you obtain your merchandise for resale to the general public, set your own business hours, sell as much or little as you like (above a set standard), and supply your own office equipment, you are not an employee.

TIP: Other factors that tend to show absence of employee status are benefits not received, such health insurance, vacation or sick leave pay.

I consult for a company that reports my income on a 1099 tax form. Can I sue as an employee under the Civil Rights Act?

No. It is apparent that the company considers you to be an independent contractor since no income tax or Social Security tax is withheld from your pay.

I am in a job training program at the college I attend and the supervisor is discriminating against me because of my race. Can I sue under the Civil Right Act?

No. You are not being discriminated against in your employment because you are not an employee. Job training is typically unpaid and offered to help you gain employment.

I am both a graduate student and an assistant at a university. Can I sue the school for sex discrimination in my job?

Yes. Graduate assistants typically receive some pay, their hours are set, vacation and leave benefits are commonly offered and taxes are taken out of their paychecks. Although your employment may be a requirement or help you complete your coursework, you are still an employee under the Civil Rights Act.

I am a partner in an accounting firm. Can I sue my partners for employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act?

No. You are not an employee of your partners. As a partner, you participate in the management of your firm and the law does not recognize you as an employee of your partners.

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