Federal law prohibits employers from making job decisions based on an employee's or applicant's race, skin color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, or age (if the person is at least 40 years old). These laws generally apply only to employers with at least 15 employees (the Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers with at least 20 employees). Almost every state also has laws prohibiting discrimination, and some of these laws apply to smaller employers or cover additional characteristics, such as sexual orientation and marital status.
The intent of these laws is to create equal employment opportunity for everyone, without regard to traits that have led to unfair mistreatment in the past. Unfortunately, the work of these laws is unfinished: Almost 100,000 charges of discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 alone, the highest number since the agency opened its doors. This section explains the laws that prohibit discrimination, as well as what to do if your rights have been violated. It also covers harassment and retaliation.