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Equal employment opportunity, like any other field, has its own terminology. The definitions given below should help you understand some of the terms you may encounter in this training module concerning equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.


the freedom of a physically or mentally impaired individual to approach, enter, and use or participate in an organization's programs, benefits, services, activities and employment opportunities.

adverse impact

occurs when employment decisions such as hiring, promotion, and termination work to the disadvantage of members of protected groups. Adverse impact focuses on the consequences of employment practices, and as such, an aggrieved party need only to establish that an employment practice has the effect of excluding a significant proportion of women or members of minority groups.

affirmative action

specific actions taken by an employer to eliminate the effects of past discrimination with regard to recruiting, hiring, promoting and training employees.

affirmative action plan

a written document conforming to certain government regulations in which an employer conducts an analysis of its workforce and ascertains whether, and the extent to which, members of protected groups are underutilized in specific job groups. In those areas where problems are identified the employer must set goals and timetables to eliminate the underutilization.

affirmative action program

a generic name referring to the entire organizational affirmative action effort, of which the written Affirmative Action Plan is one part.

bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)

a job requirement which permits an employer to discriminate on the basis of sex, age, or religion. Examples include the requirement that a performer playing the part of a woman be a woman, or that a clergyman seeking to pastor a particular religious organization be a member of that particular religion. The concept of BFOQ is interpreted very narrowly by the courts.

business necessity

if an organization's employment practices adversely affect members of a protected group, the organization must be able to demonstrate that the challenged practice(s) are essential to its operation and that no alternative nondiscriminatory practice exists.

charge (or complaint) of discrimination

a statement alleging discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation filed with the organization's Affirmative Action Officer or a governmental agency.

disabled individual

any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his or her major life activities; (2) has a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. An impairment is considered "substantially limiting" if it is likely to cause difficulty in securing, retaining, or advancing in employment.


making illegal employment decisions based on characteristics such as age, race, color, sex, national origin, disability, veteran status, or any other protected class.

disparate impact

applies to specific employment practices such as testing or other selection procedures which, although applied neutrally, adversely impact on women or minorities as determined through statistical analysis.

disparate treatment

discrimination by which an employer (supervisor) treats certain people differently because they are women or members of a minority group. Comparative evidence, statistical evidence, and direct evidence of motive may be used to prove disparate treatment.

equal employment opportunity

an organizational policy of administering all terms and conditions of employment without regard to age, color, handicap, national origin, race, religion, sex, or veterans status.

Equal Pay Act of 1963

a federal statute that requires employers to compensate men and women equally for performing jobs that involve substantially equal responsibility, effort, and working conditions.

essential functions

the fundamental job duties of a position; considered essential for several reasons, including but not limited to the following: the job exists to perform that function; there are a limited number of employees available to perform the function; and the function may be highly specialized.

exectuive order

an order issued by the President of the United States to the executive branch of the government.

Executive Order 11246

an order first issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, and supported by all subsequent presidents, that specified the EEO clause for federal contracts, which requires affirmative action as a condition of conducting business with the federal government.

goals and timetables

numerical projections contained in an Affirmative Action Plan which indicate through new hires, the employer's efforts to achieve minority and female representation in its workforce that is commensurate with the availability of women and minorities in the labor market.

job description

a written statement detailing the major duties and responsibilities associated with a particular position title.

job qualifications

the educational background, prior work experiences, necessary skills and abilities, and any other requirements an applicant must possess in order to receive employment or promotion consideration for a particular position.

job relatedness

the extent to which the criteria utilized by an employer to determine promotions, salary increases, training opportunities, transfers, terminations, etc. is directly related to on-the-job performance.

major life activities

functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, speaking, working, breathing, and learning.


one or more of the following groups of individuals: African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans/Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, and females of all minority groups, including Caucasians.

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

the lead federal agency within the Employment Standards section of the Department of Labor that administers and enforces Executive Order 11246, affirmative action programs for Minorities and Females, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974.

other veterans

veterans who served in the military, ground, naval, or air service of the United States on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized. To identify the campaigns or expeditions, contact the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

physical or mental impairment

any physiological disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of a person's body systems, such as: neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, speech, cardiovascular, etc; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

protected class (or group) member

any individual, who by virtue of his/her race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, handicap, or veterans status, is protected by anti-discrimination laws. Typically protected class members are: women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, the disabled, Vietnam Era veterans, disabled veterans, and persons over the age of 40.

qualified special disabled veteran

a special disabled veteran who satisfies the requisite skills, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the employment position desired or held, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position.

qualified disabled individual

a person with a disability who has the requisite skills, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position.


a court-imposed numerical goal designed to remedy egregious discrimination that has had lingering effects on the composition of the workforce.

racial (or ethnic) minority

any person or persons who is considered to be or who self-identifies himself/herself as black, Native American, Asian, or Hispanic.

reasonable accomodation

any alteration, adjustment, or change in a job and/or workplace that will enable a disabled individual to participate or to perform a particular job successfully, as determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the individual circumstances. This term also refers to any adjustments made by an employer to accommodate an employee whose religious beliefs forbid working on certain days and hours.

right to sue letter

Title VII claims may not be brought in Federal or State court until they have been filed with the EEOC, and the EEOC has issued a right to sue letter.

The EEOC will issue a right to sue letter for various reasons: 1) that it does not have jurisdiction over the charge; 2) where the charging party does not cooperate; 3) where the charging party requests a right to sue letter; 4) the EEOC determines there is no reasonable cause; or 5) the EEOC has found reasonable cause and conciliation has failed.

sexual harassment

an incident in which a person uses his or her position to control, influence, or affect the career, salary, or job of n employee or prospective employee in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment also includes sexual innuendos; unwanted pressure for dates; inappropriate remarks about another person's clothing, body, or sex life; unnecessary touching, patting or pinching; leering or ogling; and demanding sexual favors accompanied by implied or overt threats concerning one's job and/or terms and conditions of employment.

Legally sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, such as requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, that constitute sexual harassment when: 1) submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual's employment or education; or 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting such individual; or 3) such conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or learning environment.

special disabled veteran

a veteran entitled to compensation for a disability rated at 30 percent or more; a veteran who has been determined under U.S.C. 3106 to have a serious employment handicap rated at 10-20 percent; or a person discharged or released from active duty with a service-connected disability.

substantially limited

significantly restricted in the ability to perform a broad range of jobs in various classes compared to an average person having comparable training and skills, based on the following factors: the nature and severity of the impairment, the duration of the impairment, and the permanent or long-term impact resulting from the impairment.

systemic discrimination

employment policies and practices which, though often neutral on their face, serve to differentiate or to perpetuate a differentiation in the treatment of certain applicants or employees because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap or veteran's status. Systemic discrimination normally relates to a recurring practice rather than to an isolated act of discrimination, and may include failure to remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination. Intent to discriminate may or may not be involved.

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