Typical federal protections in the United States are from harassment, bias, and discrimination based on race, color, religion, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender expression, citizenship, family size and status, disability, veteran status, and genetic information. Statutory protections typically extend into areas such as equal employment opportunity, access to educational programs, reasonable accommodation, fair housing, protection from hate crimes, and (less frequently) consumer protections. The major pieces of relevant legislation, in order of Congressional passage, are;
- Equal Pay Act of 1963
- Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Title VIII of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Vietnam Veterans Readjustment and Assistance Act of 1974
- Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008
Reasons for protections
Social groups are afforded “suspect classification” status and will be candidates for protection if the group has historically been discriminated against or have been subject to prejudice, hostility, or stigma, due, at least in part, to stereotypes. Defining traits of the group must be immutable or highly visible but which do not in fact inhibit them from contributing meaningfully to society. Finally, the social group must be powerless to protect themselves via the political process (the group is a “discrete” and “insular” minority). The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 protects social groups from crimes against them based on the characteristics described above.
Limitations for Veterans
Veterans are a federally protected population but receive only limited statutory support compared to other social groups. The only dedicated protection that veterans receive is under VEVRAA, which is restricted to employment in the public sector workforce and private government-contracted employers. No protections exist for veterans employed in small businesses or large companies without federal contracts. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission excludes veteran status, however, making the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contracts, Compliance, and Programs the sole enforcement agency with jurisdiction over veterans. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act protects veterans from being targeted for crimes for just five years after their discharge. These are the only federal protections for veterans.