Race Discrimination

Hold Employers Accountable

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to protect American workers against race discrimination and harassment in the workplace, yet racial discrimination continues to lead the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In fact, more than 33,500 cases nationwide were reported in 2012.

Regardless of your race, color, or ethnicity, you could be targeted for discrimination at work, thereby affecting your career and overall well-being. But understanding what constitutes racial discrimination is essential in protecting your job and establishing a workplace that is free of prejudice.

Our Southern California race discrimination lawyers at Miller Wilmers APC possess extensive experience in fighting for employees discriminated against by their companies and colleagues. We understand that you deserve to be judged in the workplace for your merits and accomplishments, not your race, and that you should be paid fairly and equally.

Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Federal law prohibits companies that employ 15 or more individuals from basing employment decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. It makes illegal both intentional discrimination as well as job policies that appear neutral but in fact are not job-related and disproportionally harm workers of certain races.

Examples of this discrimination in the workplace can include: 

  • Inequalities in hiring, firing, or promotion: Anti-discrimination protections apply to job applicants as well as current workers. If you are a current employee and are fired or not promoted, you are protected under the law. If you are not hired because of race, you are also protected.
  • Disparities in pay: Even when whites and minorities work in the same field, the wage gap between races still exists. Studies have shown that in professional industries, the wage gap on average is between $2,000 and $12,000 a year. You may have a case under Title VII if you are denied equal pay due to your race.
  • Job classification: If your responsibilities have increased, but your job classification and pay have remained stagnant because of your race while those of your colleagues have been adjusted, according to the law, your benefits must match those of coworkers in similar positions.
  • Harassment: Although Title VII does not specifically use the words “racial harassment,” courts have held that racial harassment is race discrimination and violates the law. Harassment can lead to a hostile workplace and includes everything from racial jokes to physical threats.
Racial Harassment versus Discrimination. 

The law doesn't specifically use the words racial harassment, although the courts do see racial harassment as a form of racial discrimination. Additionally, the laws do cover victims of harassment in the workplace and call for freedom from a hostile work environment.

If you have been a victim of racial discrimination or harassment, the first thing to do is approach management or human resources to report the injustice. However, if your company does nothing to remedy the situation, contact Miller and Wilmers APC for help. We can build a race discrimination case on your behalf, file a complaint with the EEOC, and help secure the remedies available to you, from back pay to reinstatement of your position to damages.

California and Federal Law

Discrimination in the workplace, based on race, color, ethnicity and/or national origin is prohibited under both California and federal law. Racial discrimination is prohibited in all employment practices including: advertisements for positions or work programs, applications and interviews, hiring, transferring, promoting or leaving a job and/or working conditions. Racial discrimination in the workplace is illegal when such actions are taken in respect to the "terms or conditions of employment." "Terms or conditions of employment" is virtually anything relating to a job: rate of pay, title, position, team role, hours, vacations, etc. Hiring or firing is also a term or condition of employment. California's Fair Employment and Housing Act builds upon these racial discrimination protections and California has taken a powerful stance against this type of illegal conduct. 

Employment race discrimination in the workplace based on association with people of a particular race is also prohibited. An employer may not fire a white employee because he has African American friends, or was dating a black woman. If it did so, the employee would have a discrimination suit, whether or not the employer is prejudiced against whites.

There are two types of racial discrimination in the workplace. The more obvious form is "disparate treatment" and the second is "disparate impact."

"Disparate treatment" is more obvious because it is what we all recognize as classical discrimination. It is when a person is treated differently because of their race, ethnicity, etc. Race discrimination may be proven through direct evidence or circumstantial (indirect) evidence, as both are treated equally in the eyes of the law. In state cases in California, juries are usually instructed as follows regarding direct versus indirect evidence:

Evidence can come in many forms. It can be testimony about what someone saw or heard or smelled. It can be an exhibit admitted into evidence. It can be someone's opinion. Some evidence proves a fact directly, such as testimony of a witness who saw a jet plane flying across the sky. Some evidence proves a fact indirectly, such as testimony of a witness who saw only the white trail that jet planes often leave. This indirect evidence is sometimes referred to as "circumstantial evidence." In either instance, the witness's testimony is evidence that a jet plane flew across the sky. As far as the law is concerned, it makes no difference whether evidence is direct or indirect. You may choose to believe or disbelieve either kind. Whether it is direct or indirect, you should give every piece of evidence whatever weight you think it deserves. (CACI 202).

However, from a practical standpoint, many people, and perhaps certain jurors, may give greater weight to direct evidence even though they are not supposed to do so.

"Disparate impact" discrimination is more difficult to define and oftentimes, such discrimination is also more difficult to identify unless you are specifically looking for it. A "disparate impact" occurs when a policy of the employer results in benefits to one class of employees but not the other or excludes certain individuals from a job benefit or promotion. It can also be a policy which results in detriment to a protected class of employees as well. Usually, it appears that the given policy is not manifestly designed to create such a benefit or detriment; it merely has that effect. Such cases are complex and usually require statistical evidence as the primary form of proof. For more on disparate impact cases, consult an attorney.

All Races are Protected

Racial discrimination laws protect all employees, not simply members of minority groups. A white or Caucasian employee who is passed over for promotion in favor of a less qualified non-white employee might have a valid racial discrimination claim against their employer.

Related Concepts Like National Origin are Important

Race is a difficult concept to grasp. It often overlaps with other concepts, such as ethnicity, color and national origin.

For example, if someone refused to hire you because you are Hispanic, are they discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity? If they refuse to hire you because you have Mexican parents, is this racial discrimination or ethnicity discrimination?

Fortunately, you don't need to worry about that.  If you've been mistreated because of who you are or where your family is from, California and/or federal law might protect you, because they prohibit discrimination on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color in addition to race.

The Person Discriminating Against You can be the Same Race

Racial discrimination in employment is not limited to situations where a boss and employee are different races. For example, a black boss can discriminate on the basis of race against a black employee. The discrimination is still illegal, regardless.

Report Discrimination to Appropriate Agencies

Employees have a choice of reporting the discrimination to either the federal EEOC or to California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). In many situations, California law provides greater protections than federal law, so you might report it to the DFEH. However, you can ask either agency to share information with the other.

In any event, it is advisable to report discrimination to one of those agencies and exhaust your administrative remedies with them before you try to file a discrimination lawsuit in court.

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