Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in employment and access to certain programs provided by institutions of higher education. While discrimination may manifest itself in a myriad of forms, Federal and state laws have identified certain "protected classes" of people with a common characteristic, the most significant of these being sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, veteran's status, and, in some states, sexual orientation. The landmark legislation in this regard is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent laws have broadened the purview of this protection from discriminatory practices in the work place and places of public accommodation.
Three Federal laws mandate certain programs be put in place by employers to promote the hiring of certain "protected classes." They are commonly referred to as "affirmative action programs." The most notable is associated with Executive Order 11,246 which stipulates that the recipient of any government contract take affirmative action in employment and advancement in the work place not to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In addition, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 503, requires affirmative action based on disability, and the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 requires affirmative action for veterans of the Vietnam era and special disabled veterans.