Equal Opportunity Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Equal Opportunity, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Equal Opportunity?

1\) n. a right supposedly guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against any discrimination in employment, education, housing or credit rights due to a person’s race, color, sex (or sometimes sexual orientation), religion, national origin, age or handicap. A person who believes he/she has not been granted equal opportunity or has been outright sexually harassed or discriminated against may bring a lawsuit under federal and most state laws, or file a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or a state equal opportunity agency. 2) adj. a term applied to employers, lenders and landlords, who advertise that they are “equal opportunity employers,” subtly suggesting all others are not, even though they are required by law to be so.

History and Meaning of Equal Opportunity

Equal opportunity refers to the concept that each person ought to be treated similarly, without unfair discrimination. It is a fundamental principle of employment law and serves as the foundation for non-discriminatory practices with respect to hiring and promoting employees. The expression "equal opportunity" is often used in the sense of the legal right to be treated fairly as all others, regardless of gender, sexuality, religion, race, or national origin.

Examples of Equal Opportunity

  1. An organization that advertises itself as an "equal opportunity employer" cannot deny someone a job or promotion because of their race.
  2. A landlord cannot decline to rent an apartment to someone because of their religion.
  3. A school cannot deny admission to someone because they have a disability.
  4. An individual cannot be refused a bank loan because of their age.
  5. A company cannot fire a female employee on the basis of her gender.

Legal Terms Similar to Equal Opportunity

  1. Affirmative Action: A set of policies and measures designed to redress the effects of past discrimination by giving preferential treatment to groups who have been traditionally discriminated against.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: Aims to ensure that all workers are treated equally, regardless of their race, gender, or religious background. It focuses on creating a workplace culture that is more diverse and inclusive.
  3. Anti-Discrimination Law: The legal framework that prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of specific protected characteristics.