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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/Conviction Policy/Prison Inmate/Religion/Work Program

March 26, 2016


This is in response to your letter, received on February 16, 2016, to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You are alleging "harassment, retaliation and a systematic targeting of Muslims" in the prison work program where you are incarcerated.

The EEOC enforces, among other laws, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, asamended, 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 Compliance Manual, § 2, Threshold Issues, May 2000 ("A prison does not have an employment relationship with its own prisoners").

On the other hand, if a correctional institution is a covered employer, it would be prohibited from discriminatorily interfering with an inmate's employment with an outside employer through a work release program. For example, Title VII would prohibit a correctional institution with 15 or more employees from using race as a factor in allowing inmates to work with outside employers through a work release program.

The EEOC can determine whether Title VII coverage extends to the work program in your correctional facility, under the specific facts of your situation, only if you file a formal "charge" of employment discrimination 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 on filing a charge. For your convenience, we attached information on filing a charge. Under Title VII, you must file a charge with the EEOC before initiating a lawsuit. If the EEOC dismisses or does not settle your charge, the EEOC will issue a notice of "Right to Sue," giving you 90 days to file a lawsuit. You may also request a notice of "Right to Sue" 180 days after filing the charge with the EEOC, if the charge is still pending.

We are including the following information on religious discrimination and harassment in the workplace:

We also forwarded your letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for a response. DOJ's Special Litigation Division handles certain prison-related matters and its Office of Justice Programs enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Their contact information is:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main
Washington, D.C. 20530
Telephone: (202) 514-4609

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).



Carol R. Miaskoff
Acting Associate Legal Counsel


This page was last modified on May 9, 2016.