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What is Marital Status Discrimination?

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Your questions about workers’ rights, answeredWorkers' Rights FAQ

Employment laws protect you from discrimination in the workplace. We’ve all heard about gender discrimination, racial discrimination, or age discrimination. But laws also protect you from marital status discrimination.

What is marital status discrimination? It means treating job applicants and employees badly because of their marital or familial status. 

Is it illegal to discriminate against employees for their marital status? Can employers ask whether you’re married during a job interview? And what counts as discrimination for marital status?

Keep reading for answers to all of your marital status discrimination questions.

What is marital status discrimination?

Marital status discrimination means treating a job applicant or employee poorly because of their marital status.

Examples of marital status discrimination include:

  • Denying certain employment benefits to single employees
  • Refusing to hire someone because of their spouse
  • Firing someone for getting married

Discriminating against someone because of their marital status, familial status, parental status, or caregiver status violates the law in many states.

Is marital status a protected class?

Federal protected classes include gender, race, religion, and disability. But is marital status a protected class under federal law? Unfortunately, federal law does not consider marital status a protected class. However, several states and cities count marital status as a protected class. 

For example, New York state and New York City laws ban marital status discrimination in hiring and employment.

At the federal level, the Civil Service Reform Act bans marital status discrimination in federal government hiring and employment. Federal employment laws also offer some similar protections to familial status discrimination laws. 

What prohibits discrimination based on marital status?

In New York, the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law both prohibit marital status discrimination. Several other states ban marital status discrimination, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Delaware, Illinois, and Washington.

Other states ban discrimination because of someone’s familial status or parental status, including Pennsylvania and Texas.

What is familial status discrimination?

Familial status discrimination, also called family status discrimination, means treating an employee or job candidate badly because they have or do not have children. 

Familial status discrimination examples include:

  • Refusing to promote someone because of their family responsibilities
  • Not hiring a candidate with children
  • Paying an employee less because they don’t have children 

Similarly, caregiver discrimination targets employees with caregiving responsibilities outside work. This violates the law in many states. 

In many cities and states, familial status is a protected class. That means employers cannot treat you unfairly because of your family status.

What is family responsibility discrimination?

Family responsibility discrimination, also known as caregiver discrimination, means treating a job candidate or employee poorly because they care for children, older family members, or others. 

Another type of familial status discrimination, family responsibility discrimination treats employees differently because of their responsibilities at home. This can include employees who care for a disabled family member, people with aging parents, or those with young children.

In many states, the law also protects employees from discrimination based on the assumption that they may become a caregiver. For example, employers cannot discriminate against young women because they might eventually have children. 

Is family status a protected class?

At the federal level, race, sex, religion, and national origin are all protected classes. That means laws protect these groups from employment discrimination. But is family status a protected class?

In some areas, state and local laws treat family status as a protected class. For example, New York State and New York City laws ban familial status discrimination in hiring and employment. That means family status is a protected class in New York.

Is it illegal for an employer to ask about marital status? 

Can you ask about marital status in a job interview? Is it okay for hiring managers to ask whether a job candidate is married or single? 

While most states don’t clearly ban asking about marital status, it’s illegal in many states to make employment decisions based on a candidate’s marital status.

Even at the federal level, asking about marital status or parental status can violate Title VII. The EEOC says that if these questions limit the number of women in the company, that can qualify as sex discrimination.

The EEOC considers asking about pregnancy, marital status, children, or childcare arrangements during a job interview as “evidence of intent to discriminate.”

Can I be discriminated against for marrying someone of the same sex?

No, employers cannot discriminate against employees for having a same-sex spouse or partner. Refusing to hire someone because of their partner violates marital status discrimination laws in many states, and federal employment protections extend to LGBT employees. 

Treating a same-sex couple differently from an opposite-sex couple in any way violates employment laws. For example, employers cannot deny same-sex partners health insurance benefits or any other benefits available to spouses of employees. 

Can an employer refuse to hire me because I’ve married my same-sex partner?

Employers must provide equal treatment for LGBT job candidates and employees. For example, employers cannot refuse to hire a candidate because they are married to someone of the same sex. That would qualify as marital status discrimination and LGBT discrimination. 

Hiring managers generally should not ask about marital status during interviews. According to the EEOC, asking about marital status in a job interview is “evidence of intent to discriminate.”

Can my employer refuse to provide my same-sex spouse with employment benefits that they give to opposite-sex spouses?

Same-sex couples may worry, “Can my employer refuse to recognize my marriage as valid?” Legally, your employer cannot treat opposite-sex couples differently from same-sex couples. If opposite-sex partners receive family benefits plans, same-sex partners must receive the same benefits.

These protections fall under the category of LGBT discrimination and marital status discrimination because they discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation and marital status.

How do you deal with discrimination?

If you experience marital status discrimination, you have rights. In many states, your employer cannot deny benefits, withhold a promotion, or pay you less because of your marital status, family status, or caregiver status. 

However, federal laws do not always cover marital and family status discrimination. Some types of discrimination, like refusing to hire a woman because she may have children or firing someone for marrying a same-sex partner, fall under other federal discrimination laws.

A discrimination lawyer can help determine whether you have a case. You can reach out to a discrimination lawyer to learn how to protect your rights and file a lawsuit.

In the New York City area, contact discrimination lawyer Charles Joseph for a free consultation. Thanks to NYC’s strong employment protections, you may have a claim against your employer.

Read more about workplace discrimination laws.

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Legal content fact checked by Charles E. Joseph

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