Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. A “covered employer” is an employer who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
In very narrow circumstances, an employer is permitted to discriminate on the basis of a protected trait where the trait is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII, and in doing so may investigate, mediate, and file lawsuits on behalf of employees. The law also provides that an individual can bring a private lawsuit against the employer; provided, however, that the individual exhausts his or her administrative remedies by first filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.
Finally, Title VII makes it illegal for an employer to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against an individual because the individual filed a charge of discrimination, because the individual complained to his or her employer about discrimination on the job, or because the individual participated in an employment discrimination proceeding.
Florida has adopted a version of Title VII, called the Florida Civil Rights Act, which is discussed in more detail below.