The statute is fairly straight forward, though both parties have something to prove in a case. First, an employee must establish that the employer acted against the employee in some way because of a protected class. The employer then has the chance to prove that such an action was not done because of a discriminatory reason, but was instead for legitimate cause. Finally the employee needs to prove this legitimate cause is a sham or a pretext.
For an employer, beyond knowing the various classifications of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, this law provides explicit limitations and more. For example, Title VII permits what is call a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification, a BFOQ.
If a company can establish a BFOQ, then decisions based upon the BFOQ are by definition not discriminatory. For example, if working on the Sabbath is a BFOQ, then it would be permissible not to hire an individual who refuses to work on the Sabbath for religious reasons. This can be a powerful tool for a business.
Claiming a requirement is a BFOQ is difficult as a true BFOQ essentially legalizes discrimination. As such, there must be a significant, important, and true reason for the recognition of the qualification as a BFOQ. To determine if your business has a BFOQ, it would be in your best interest to consult with an attorney.
The statute has other provisions as well, including prohibitions on retaliation and other whistleblower protections. In recent years, the law has been the focus of changes in interpretation from the court and the agency effectuating the act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The courts and the agencies are changing interpretations for Transgender and Homosexual individuals. It appears as though the definition of “sex” is expanding to include and protect both of these groups.
This is an evolving area of law and businesses are advised to be cautious in their employment decisions. Speaking with an attorney and human resource professionals is important to help keep out of significant legal trouble.