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Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Racial or ethnic discrimination in the workplace can rear its ugly head in a variety of forms, some of which can be overt or obvious. But racial discrimination can often be subtle and more difficult to detect, such as an employer's failure to hire or promote an individual on account of their race. Whichever form it takes, however, racial discrimination in the workplace is strictly prohibited by a number of federal and state laws.

Identifying Racial Discrimination

One of the more difficult aspects of racial discrimination at work, is that it can often take place entirely undetected. After all, unless an employer specifically admits otherwise, who can say for sure why they made a particular decision to hire a certain individual or gave another a promotion? That said, there are some instances where an employer may display some discriminatory intent.

For example, when it comes to interviewing, employers typically should not ask questions about a prospective employee's race. If an employer does so, and decides not to hire this employee, it may serve as evidence that race played a role in the decision. Such circumstances are rare, however, and it should also be noted that employers may permissibly ask about race in the context of forms and affirmative action programs, so long as they play no part in the decision-making process.

More often, discrimination is far more subtle, and an individual will have no certainty as to why they weren't hired, unlike the example above. Asking the employer is an option, but employers could offer any viable reason that is not based on race. However, it may be possible to use hiring trends as evidence of racial discrimination. Alternatively, if a lesser-qualified individual is hired or promoted to a position than an employee or applicant of another race, this could also be used as evidence of discrimination.

Lastly, employers may be discriminating and not even realize it! Some employers institute hiring practices, tests, or workplace policies that single out or have a greater effect on certain races. If not done for a legitimate business purpose or properly validated, such practices could be considered racial discrimination should a claim be raised.

Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

The primary federal laws that address racial discrimination in the workplace fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In large part, the section often referred to simply as "Title VII" prohibits employers from:

  • failing or refusing to hire an employee based on their race;
  • firing or disciplining an employee because of their race;
  • paying an employee less or providing them fewer benefits on account of their race;
  • failing to provide benefits, promotions, or opportunities, to an employee because of their race; and
  • improperly classifying or segregating employees or applicants by race.

Along the same lines, employment agencies cannot make decisions on referrals or work assignments based on an individual's race. Labor unions and representatives cannot refuse membership or expel individuals because of their race.

State Anti-Discrimination Laws

States do not stand on the sidelines when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. State legislation covering workplace discrimination is fairly widespread, and generally mirrors federal law in prohibiting discrimination based on race. The primary differences are in the procedures used and agencies contacted to make a claim of discrimination.

However, at both the federal and state level, deadlines are a key consideration. There are often strict timelines for reporting and filing claims of racial discrimination, so if you feel you have been discriminated against, do not hesitate to contact an employment law attorney in your area to discuss your situation.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney
to make sure your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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