Section 201 of the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), which applies Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Congress, requires that all personnel actions– such as hiring, discharge, promotion, pay, or benefits – must be free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The law forbids discrimination based on these characteristics even if other factors also motivate the action. Harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is prohibited as well.

The law forbids certain employment practices that, while they may appear neutral in practice, in fact, cause a “disparate impact” on an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The practice may be lawful in certain circumstances only if the employing office proves that the practice is job-related for the position in question and is consistent with business necessity.

Section 201 of the CAA also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. In addition, the law requires that an employing office must reasonably accommodate an applicant or employee’s religious observances and practices so long as it does not create an undue hardship on the conduct of business.

Proving motivation depends on the facts of a particular case. For example, a covered employee must not only prove that he or she was treated differently from others in similar circumstances, but must also show that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor in that treatment. Under certain circumstances, an employing office may need to prove that it took adverse personnel action against a covered employee for non-discriminatory reasons, and accurate records of employees’ job performance may be critical in such a case.

There are several exceptions to Section 201′s prohibition on discrimination. It should also be noted that, under the CAA, it is lawful for certain House of Representatives and Senate offices to consider party, place of residence, or political compatibility in making employment decisions.

For more information, please refer to the Congressional Accountability ActThis has been revised to reflect P.L. 115-397.