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EEOC Informal Discussion Letter

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.

Title VII: Application to Inmate Work Programs

March 28, 2008

Dear ____:

This is in response to your letter, received on March 13, 2008, requesting information on filing a Title VII charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You allege that you have been denied employment opportunities while you have been in prison.

The EEOC enforces, among other laws, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, and national origin. Title VII applies only to employment relationships. If the work, or lack of work, is based on incarceration, it is not covered by Title VII or other employment discrimination laws. See e.g. Williams v. Meese, 926 F.2d 994, 997 (10th Cir. 1991) (prison inmate was not an “employee” under Title VII because his relationship with the Bureau of Prisons arose out of his status as an inmate, not an employee); EEOC Decision No: 86-7, 1986 WL 38836 (Apr. 18, 1986) (same).

The Commission can determine whether Title VII coverage extends to the work program in your correctional facility, under the specific facts of your case, only after a charge has been filed. If you believe that you have been unlawfully discriminated against, you may file a charge with the EEOC. You may call 1-800-669-4000 to contact the nearest EEOC field office. You may also visit the EEOC’s website at for additional information. For your information, we have also enclosed an Enforcement Guidance on “Work Release Programs,” EEOC Compliance Manual, Volume II, § 605, Appendix D.

We hope that this information is helpful to you. Please note, however, that this letter does not constitute an opinion or interpretation of the Commission within the meaning of § 713(b) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-12(b).

Dianna B. Johnston
Assistant Legal Counsel

This page was last modified on May 6, 2008.

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