The term reverse discrimination may sound complicated, but it boils down to a type of discrimination wherein the victims of discrimination are members of a majority or historically "advantaged" group. Often, reverse discrimination cases involve programs meant to advance or promote minorities and address inequality, such as affirmative action.
Because anti-discrimination laws were originally enacted to prevent discrimination against minorities and groups that were historically disadvantaged and denied opportunities in the workplace, there has sometimes existed a perception that members of majority groups are not protected by the same laws. As a result, the term "reverse discrimination" originated to describe these kinds of cases where members of a majority group are claiming they were discriminated against in favor of minorities or historically disadvantaged groups.
What is Reverse Discrimination?
Reverse discrimination is a claim that occurs when a member or members of a majority are discriminated against on the basis of a protected factor, such as race or gender. Common examples would include a Caucasian individual who is discriminated against in favor of a racial minority, or perhaps a man suing because a woman was given favorable treatment at work on account of her gender. While many diversity initiative programs (such as affirmative action) are generally designed to "level the playing field" in the workplace or educational settings, these programs may run the risk of breaking discrimination laws despite their historical justifications.
Examples of reverse discrimination may include:
- Making hiring or promoting decisions in favor minority groups, despite the experience or seniority of Caucasian or majority applicants;
- Hiring or promoting women solely on the basis of their gender over equally or more qualified males;
- Refusing to hire or firing of persons under 40 years of age in favor of the hiring of persons over 40 years of age
- Rejecting an applicant for school while admitting a minority applicant solely on the basis of race (courts have stated that race may only be used as a "factor" in educational applicant decisions)
Reverse Discrimination in Employment: The Law
Courts have struggled with various types of reverse discrimination cases. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not discriminate based on race, sex, gender, religion, or national origin, irrespective of who the victim of discrimination might be. In addition, under Title VII, employers may not create programs and policies that would have a "disparate impact" - or adverse effect on members of a protected class. However, courts have interpreted this and similar state laws in different ways in reverse discrimination cases. Although, some forms of discrimination in favor of minorities and historically disadvanted groups like women have been upheld by courts, others have not, and there is a great deal of grey area in this area of law.
Like other discrimination cases, reverse discrimination claims are not easily proven. The plaintiff has the burden of proving actual discrimination on the part of the employer based on race, sex, or another prohibited basis. Furthermore, a person claiming reverse discrimination must prove the following:
- Evidence that plaintiff is a member of a protected class (for example, a member of a certain race, sex, or religion)
- Similarly situated employees received more favorable treatment than the plaintiff
- Information that supports that the employer discriminates against historically privileged or majority groups;
- Plaintiff performed the job satisfactorily (if part of a promotion decision)
What to Do if You Suspect Reverse Discrimination
If you believe you were denied a job or promotion because of your race, gender, religion or any other impermissible factor, you may wish to file a charge of employment discrimination against your employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) - the federal agency that handles these types of claims, or its state equivalent. Additionally, it might be a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable employment lawyer in your area who can advise you on your rights and legal responsibilities.