Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on the following main components: race,  color, religion, sex, and national origin. Each of these Title VII components are explained in greater detail below:

Race or Color Discrimination. Discrimination based on race or color is strictly prohibited by Title VII, and religious institutions are not exempt. While other state and federal laws address discrimination based on race or color, Title VII is the predominant federal statute affecting this issue.

Religious Discrimination. Under Title VII, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that a church or religious educational institution is generally permitted to give employment preference to individuals who are members of the organization’s religion. However, state or local laws may limit this religious preference exception to those employees who perform purely religious functions. Read more about employment issues based on religious beliefs in Can an Employee Sue? from Brotherhood Mutual.


Sex Discrimination. Sex discrimination covers a variety of areas, including gender, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and pregnancy discrimination. For certain positions, ministries may be able to discriminate based on gender if a bona fide occupational qualification exists. However, ministries should be aware that, in 2020, the Supreme Court determined in Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia that discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender status constitutes sex discrimination. Brotherhood Mutual provides additional detail on this case in Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Religious Employers.  

Regarding sexual harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that employers are responsible for the acts of their supervisory employees that result in a negative employment action (e.g., a failure to promote or hire, loss of wages, etc.), regardless of whether the employer prohibited the conduct, and regardless of whether the employer knew about it.

Employers may also be liable for sexual harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom the employer has control (e.g., an independent contractor) if the employer knew or should have known about the conduct, unless it can be shown that the employer took prompt and appropriate corrective action.

The EEOC’s guidance on harassment and on sexual harassment provide additional information that your organization may find helpful on this topic.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) extends Title VII by stating that pregnancy discrimination is equivalent to sex discrimination. Employers, including religious institutions, may not discriminate against a pregnant woman. Courts have held, however, that a religious organization may terminate a pregnant employee if the employment decision is based on a violation of the ministry’s moral clause, statement of faith, sincerely held beliefs, or rules of conduct.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits sex discrimination in all educational programs and activities. Generally, all colleges and universities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education are subject to Title IX. Federal financial assistance includes direct and indirect financial assistance, such as accepting federal student aid money. However, Title IX contains an exemption for educational institutions that are controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious beliefs of the organization.

National Origin. National origin may refer to either the place where a person was born or the country of ancestry. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on national origin.

Title VII Resources in the Brotherhood Mutual Safety Library: