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What is Race Discrimination in the Workplace?


Are you one of only a few minorities at your job? Are all of the supervisors or management of a different race than you? Do you feel you are being singled out because of your race? You may be the victim of race discrimination.

How is race discrimination defined?

Race discrimination occurs when someone, either an employee or applicant, is treated unfavorably because of their race or personal characteristics associated with a certain race (e.g., hair texture, skin color, facial features). Race discrimination also includes being treated unfavorably because you are married to someone who is a minority or you regularly associate with minorities, even if you yourself are not a minority. It no longer matters that the person who is discriminating against you is the same race, as long as their conduct is based on the fact that you are of a particular race.

What does the law prohibit?

The federal anti-discrimination laws forbid discrimination in employment. This includes making race-based decisions on matters such as such as:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Pay raises
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs or reductions in force
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits

It is also unlawful to harass someone because of their race. Harassing conduct includes racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks regarding race, displaying racially-offensive symbols, such as swastikas or nooses. Harassment must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment. Therefore, teasing or offhand comments that are isolated events are not sufficient to establish a hostile work environment. Harassment can also be actionable if it leads to an adverse employment action such as termination or demotion.

What if my employer's policies seem to discriminate against all minorities?

The above discussion relates primarily to intentional decisions by employers and managers to discriminate or treat minorities less favorably. But there are also situations where an employer's policy, which seems neutral on its face, actually excludes minorities or discriminates against them in some way when the policy is applied. The policy may have what is known as a "disparate impact" on certain races. Those policies may also constitute discrimination if the policies or requirements are not sufficiently "job related." For example, consider a company policy which excludes people with sickle cell anemia. The policy may not seem, at first glance, to discriminate based on race. However, because sickle cell anemia predominantly occurs in African-Americans, it would essentially exclude people of that race. As such, the policy would be discriminatory unless it was sufficiently job related.

Other examples of potentially discriminatory practices include:

  • Soliciting applications from sources in which all or most potential workers are of a certain race;
  • Requiring a certain educational background that is not important for job performance;
  • Pre-employment testing that excludes a certain race at a higher level, but is not important for job performance.

If you believe you may be a victim of race discrimination, feel free to contact our firm for a consultation to discuss your rights.

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