EEOC Addresses Domestic Violence and Title VII

In a recent fact sheet, the EEOC discussed a set of questions that seem odd at first glance, and illustrate a broad trend of its expanding focus.

The agency, which has recently addressed employees’ and applicants’ credit reports, high school education (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, and arrest history, is now shifting gears yet again. This time it’s addressing how to apply Title VII (and the ADA) to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

It notes that domestic violence or stalking victims are not a protected class under Title VII, but explains that adverse action based on sexual stereotypes regarding domestic violence can violate Title VII. For example:

  • An employer terminates an employee after learning she has been subjected to domestic violence, saying he fears the potential “drama battered women bring to the workplace.”
  • A hiring manager, believing that only women can be true victims of domestic violence because men should be able to protect themselves, does not select a male applicant when he learns that the applicant obtained a restraining order against a male domestic partner.
  • An employer allows a male employee to use unpaid leave for a court appearance in the criminal prosecution of an assault, but does not allow a similarly situated female employee to use equivalent leave to testify in the criminal prosecution of domestic violence she experienced. The employer says that the assault by a stranger is a “real crime,” whereas domestic violence is “just a marital problem” and “women think everything is domestic violence.”

While these are obviously more blatant violations, it highlights a growing trend of the EEOC digging deeper to look at underlying factors in discrimination cases.

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