Is it legal for employers to discriminate based on marital status?

Is it legal for employers to search public access family court case information websites for the names of applicants? Furthermore, is it legal for employers to discriminate based on marital status (single, married, divorced, etc.) regardless of the source of this information?

Posted  02-09-2012

Ann Kiernan replies:

While it is perfectly legal for employers to look at publicly available court records as part of a pre-employment background check, I wonder why they would want to look at family court records. What employment-related information could possibly be there?

Under federal law, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 protects federal civilian employees only-not private sector workers-from discrimination based on marital status. Marital status is not covered by any federal anti-discrimination statute. However, the District of Columbia and about 1/2 of the states offer protection against discrimination in employment based on marital status. In most of those states, being in a civil union or domestic partnership is also protected. Marital status discrimination is not restricted to a certain gender or sexual orientation, although it may affect certain populations more than others.

Several cases have challenged polices that appear to favor married employees. For example, in Russ v. City of Troy, 2001 Mich. App. LEXIS 973 (Mich. Ct. App. 2001), a police officer established a claim for discrimination when he was denied a promotion because he was single. And, in three states, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Montana, the definition of marital status discrimination includes the identity or situation of a person’s spouse. Just last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a woman who was fired after her husband had resigned as president of the company could proceed with her marital status discrimination claim. Taylor v LSI, 796 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. 2011).


Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.