A protected characteristic–also referred to as a protected class–is a personal trait that cannot be used as a reason to discriminate against someone. As stated on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EOCC) website, these are eight protected characteristics in the United States in the context of employment discrimination: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information. For the statutes that created these protections, see Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Under the ambit of sex, also protected is pregnancy (see the Pregnancy Discrimination Act). Further, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is also prohibited as sex discrimination following the 2020 Supreme Court case of Bostock v. Clayton County. Such protections are also extended in the context of education and in access to public amenities, such as shops, restaurants, and hotels.
In the context of housing discrimination, section 3604 of the Fair Housing Act enumerates seven protected characteristics: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. As such, it is illegal to refuse to rent or sell property to a person based on one of those characteristics.
[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]