You have important rights under state and federal law if you have been discriminated against or harassed at work because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Nationality
  • Ethnicity
  • Ancestry

It is also illegal for employers to fire or retaliate against employees who complain of discrimination or harassment. The Race Discrimination Lawyers at Helmer Friedman LLP represent employees in all of these types of cases. Race discrimination is the act of using a person’s race or skin color as a deciding factor when determining who receives a job, promotion, or other employment benefit. We most often represent minority individuals who feel they have been unfairly discriminated against in favor of a Caucasian (or white) individual or other minority individual, but we also have handled cases where whites have claimed that reverse discrimination has occurred—that is, the minority received unfairly favorable treatment at the expense of the white individual.

Court rulings handed down through the years have determined that a company’s responsibility not to discriminate based on race begins even before an individual is hired. Companies can be held liable if pre-employment screening or testing is determined to be discriminatory, if applications ask unacceptable questions designed to screen for race, or if the overall selection process is deemed to be unfair. One of the main indicators that racial discrimination has occurred in the hiring process involves the qualifications of the job applicants. While a slight difference in qualifications between a minority and non-minority candidate do not automatically indicate racial bias (if the lesser qualified non-minority candidate is hired over the minority candidate), a drastic difference in qualifications has almost always been upheld by the courts as a sure sign of racial discrimination.

Racial discrimination is a high-profile issue in the business world and is a very real problem that still exists—and in some cases is getting worse. A 1998 study by the nonprofit group Catalyst called “Women of Color in Corporate Management: A Statistical Picture,” illustrates that minority women, while accounting for almost one quarter of women in the workplace, occupied only 15 percent of the management positions held by women. The determination was that a combination of racial discrimination and the glass ceiling was responsible for the disparity in those numbers.

Race Discrimination is Strongly Prohibited by State and Federal Laws

The state and federal laws strongly prohibit race discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, probably the most important laws covering race discrimination, strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or nationality in all aspects of employment. The law states that it is unlawful for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The law covers hiring, dismissals, compensation, and all other aspects of employment, while also covering actual employment opportunities that are available.

Examples of racial discrimination that would fall under the scope of the act include:

  1. An employee who alleges that his or her manager only promotes non-minority employees and keeps minorities in entry-level positions.
  2. An employee who alleges that a manager or other person in power tells jokes or makes statements that are demeaning, insulting, or offensive to members of a minority group.
  3. A manager who makes it clear that he or she believes in racial stereotypes by admitting that he or she refuses to promote a certain minority group because “all [members of that group] are lazy.”

While Title VII applies to businesses with 15 or more employees including private, federal, state, and local employers other state and local anti-discrimination law apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employers.  For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to businesses that employ five or more employees.  In addition to the hiring provisions, Title VII and state and local laws dictate that employers cannot in any way limit or segregate employees based on race in any way that would adversely affect their chances at promotions.  The laws do allow for two narrow exceptions to the law—businesses may use a “bona fide” seniority or merit system and measure performance and earnings based on a quantity or quality measuring system, and employers may use ability tests to determine the most qualified candidates for a job as long as the test does not discriminate racially in any way.

The 1964 law was amended by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The amendment allowed employees to recover punitive monetary damages for pain and emotional suffering, mental anguish, future lost wages and benefits, and more not previously covered. It also made all racial discrimination covered by U.S. law, including post-hire harassment. If it is proven that the discrimination was intentional and there was clear malice or reckless indifference exhibited, damages can be collected. Other changes in the 1991 law involve employment practices that have a “disparate impact” on racial groups (that is, affect them more than non-minority groups), make it easier for a plaintiff to receive damages in cases where a discriminatory practice and a nondiscriminatory practice both played a part in a hiring or promotion decision, and allow employees to challenge seniority systems that are put into place if the systems are later determined to be discriminatory (in the past, workers could only sue at the time the system was first put into place). Together, these changes made it easier for workers to prove discrimination claims.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) enforces laws that prevent not only discrimination based on race and color when hiring, firing, or promoting but also discrimination based on:

  • Religious creed
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military and veteran status

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, was created to oversee federal civil rights legislation and enforce laws that prevent discrimination when hiring, firing, or promoting employees based on:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age

Four groups—race, color, sex, and creed—were given “protected status” under the law, which was to be upheld by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission an independent regulatory body that has the power to launch investigations, file lawsuits, and create programs to eliminate discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues to be effective in fighting racial discrimination.

How Employers Can Stop Discrimination

Racial discrimination can have disastrous results including low morale, hostile workplace and expensive lawsuits. Prevention is the best tool to eliminate racial discrimination in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent race discrimination and harassment from occurring. In-house workshops and training sessions on racial sensitivity and workplace diversity, training on employment laws are just a few steps companies can take to prevent race discrimination in the workplace. Good policies and procedures provide an effective means for promptly and appropriately responding to discrimination complaints. A policy against discrimination is an extremely important method for preventing racial discrimination. This policy should also prohibit retaliation against any person who brings an accusation of discrimination or who assists with the investigation or resolution of a discrimination allegations.

Many companies do not take action against racial discrimination until they are defendants in a lawsuit.