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Employment Law


Since the 1960s, employment law has changed most radically in the protection that it gives employees against discrimination in the workplace. Although the federal government banned RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in the making of contracts in the CIVIL RIGHTS ACTS of 1870 and 1871 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1983), the federal courts narrowly construed the provisions to prevent their being used in the employment context. Not until the 1970s did federal courts allow those provisions to be applied to complaints of discrimination by individual employees (McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 427 U.S. 273, 96 S. Ct. 2574, 49 L. Ed. 2d 493 [1976]).

Federal legislation in the 1960s provided employees with more avenues to challenge alleged discrimination. The 1963 Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 216 (d)) requires employers to pay men and women equal wages for equal work. The CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq.) contains broad prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. Discrimination against persons ages 40 and over was banned in 1967 by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 621 et seq.).

Major amendments to the general civil rights acts were passed in 1972, extending coverage to federal and state employees; in 1978, clarifying the protection of pregnant women; and in 1991, overruling a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that had restricted the reach of antidiscrimination statutes.

In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 et seq.), forbidding discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and requiring reasonable efforts to accommodate persons with disabilities in some situations.

With the growth of federal antidiscrimination statutes, many states have passed laws banning employment discrimination. A number of cities have enacted their own programs, as well. Some states and cities address issues that are not covered by the federal statutes, such as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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