Discrimination involves behavior that treats persons differently because of their group membership--i.e., race, religion, ethnic or cultural background, sex, age, or disability status. The law protects these categories of individuals from discrimination in employment, as well as in a number of federally funded programs and services. Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI (amended in 1977), prohibits discrimination in the receipt and delivery of services on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Title VII of this Act (amended in 1972) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Any qualified handicapped individual cannot be excluded from receiving services or employment in federally funded programs and services due to the handicap under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title V, Sections 501, 503, and 504. The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in July 1990, extends this Act to include the removal of barriers that prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities that are available to persons without disabilities--in areas of employment, and program, activities, and services of public and private agencies. Age discrimination is prohibited in all programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance through the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, while age discrimination in employment is prohibited through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Although these laws guarantee fair and equitable treatment for the legally protected categories of individuals in the workplace and federally funded services, the Nondiscrimination ethical standard in this code also covers many other situations in which sociologists function--in teaching, research, practice, and service. Furthermore, this standard identifies other categories of individuals that are often treated unfairly and should not be subject to discriminatory behavior (e.g., individuals of different sexual orientation, health conditions; marital, domestic, or parental status). Therefore, discrimination based on these additional criteria should be avoided, as well. In addition, special care should be taken to prevent personal biases or prejudices from interfering with work-related activities. Sociologists should recognize their biases and take the necessary precautions to avoid unfair or unequal treatment of individuals based on these biases.
As sociologists, we are acutely aware of how group differences affect values, attitudes and behavior. Moreover, in our work-related activity, we may routinely differentiate among various categories of people. However, this differentiation is permitted as long it does not result in unfair or inequitable treatment. Unfair discrimination may take many forms (e.g., it could involve differences in grading criteria for students based on their political beliefs; allowing racist, sexist or other prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior to be expressed without questioning and critical examination).