Racial Discrimination Law
By Aaron Larson
Notice: Please note that this is only an introduction to race discrimination law. If you believe yourself to be a victim of racial discrimination, please consult with an attorney to have your claim fully evaluated.
If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination due to your race, you may be able to secure relief under state or federal law. Federal law remedies for discrimination are based upon Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [FN1], which applies to employers with fifteen or more employees. People who work for smaller employers are usually protected by similar state anti-discrimination laws.
Discrimination may occur at any stage of employment, including the initial hiring decision, promotions, layoffs or "RIF's", compensation, benefits, job assignments, training, or termination of employment, or may be manifested through racist comments or harassment at work. Discrimination may be based upon any immutable racial characteristic, including skin, eye or hair color, and certain facial features. A discrimination claim may be based upon:
Disparate Treatment - The employee is subject to discrimination because of race, ethnicity, skin color, or a similar characteristic.
Disparate Impact - Although the employer may not intend to discriminate, the employer's policies adversely affect employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, skin color, or a similar characteristic.
Under a typical anti-discrimination law, the plaintiff must prove the following:
The plaintiff was a member of a protected class;
The plaintiff was qualified for the job for which he or she applied, or that he or she was meeting the employer's legitimate job expectations at the time of discipline or termination of employment;
The plaintiff was not hired or was not promoted, and that somebody outside of the protected class was instead hired or promoted, or the plaintiff was fired and replaced by somebody outside of the protected class;
The circumstances of the employer's hiring, promotion, or termination decision give rise to a reasonable inference of discrimination;
That the employer's nondiscriminatory explanation for its actions was a mere pretext for racial discrimination - that is, it is a false explanation meant to make its discriminatory action appear to be legitimate.
Examples of racial discrimination include:
Harassment or discrimination on the basis of race or color, including offensive comments or jokes, or other statements or conduct based on race or color which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or interferes with the employee's work performance.
Classification of employees, such that employees of particular races, ethnicities or skin colors are isolated from other employees, from customer contact, or relegated to certain jobs or positions.
Assignment of employees of a particular race, color or ethnicity to particular establishments or geographic areas.
Title VII also protects employees who file discrimination charges, who participating in an investigation or litigation associated with a complaint of racial discrimination, or who testifying in related proceedings. State laws typically have similar provisions. It is possible for a complainant to lose a racial discrimination claim, but still win a judgment against an employer on the basis of retaliation.
Certain employer conduct raises questions about their intentions, and may be suggestive of discriminatory motives. For example, if an employer makes pre-employment inquiries which appear designed to determine a job candidate's racial background, it raises the concern that the information will be used in the hiring decision. If an employer which employes few minorities engages in that type of conduct, the conduct may stand as evidence of discriminatory hiring practices.
Ordinarily before you can file a suit based upon racial discrimination, you must first file a complaint about the conduct with an administrative agency. For a federal complaint, the complaint would first be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There are also state and local agencies, to which complaints may be made under state law. Sometimes the agency will take your case, and prosecute your discrimiantion on your behalf. If the agency does not act within a specific timeframe, or declines to act on your behalf, you may file a private lawsuit.
- Under Title VII, employers may not intentionally use race, skin color, age, gender, religious beliefs, or national origin as the basis for decisions relating to almost any aspect of the employment relationship, including hiring, promotions, dismissals, raises, employee benefits, leaves of absense, or assignment of work.
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