United States federal anti-discrimination laws cover outlined “protected classes.” A protected class is a characteristic of a person which cannot be targeted for discrimination. The following characteristics are considered protected classes by federal law:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Veteran status
These protected classes are created by different federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Over the years, these laws have been updated by the legislature and executive orders to include more protected classes.
States have also created other protected classes, which are protected under individual state laws.
The military has its own body of laws that deal with anti-discrimination and protected classes: the Military Equal Opportunity Program. The Program aims to ensure that service members are only evaluated on individual merit, fitness, and capability, promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers that prevent service members from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible.
The Military Equal Opportunity program investigates discrimination based on gender, race, religion, sex, and national origin. On June 9, 2015, United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new policy expanding the Program. Going forward, military service members will be able to pursue complaints with the Military Equal Opportunity program if they experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
This change brings the Program in compliance with the 2011 decision to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
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