Federal Race Discrimination Law

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 What Is Racial Discrimination?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment based on race or color unless it is done to advance a valid affirmative action plan.

To establish employment discrimination, you do not have to prove that your race was the only factor in the employer’s decision. Even if the employer had other, legitimate reasons for making the decision, you could win if you can show that it significantly influenced the decision.

How Can An Employee File a Discrimination Lawsuit?

Employees must file their case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or its state equivalent before going to federal or state court. In either case, the EEOC will dismiss the case or give the employee a notice of right to sue. Before going to court, the employee must have that letter.

The EEOC represents the federal government, not individual employees. The employee can still request a right-to-sue letter even if the EEOC launches its own investigation.

What if the Employer Did Not Intend To Discriminate?

Discrimination does not have to be a deliberate act on the part of employers. Discrimination, however, must be intentional. There is a fine line between the two, but it is an important one. Therefore, there are two types of discrimination claims.

An employer’s motives are the focus of the first type, while adverse racial effects are the focus of the second type. If an employee is unsure which type of discrimination they face, they can bring both types of claims.

Are There Any Defenses An Employer Could Use?

Unlike the laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex, there is no “bona fide occupational qualification” defense in these cases. A person’s race should not disqualify them from employment.

As there are no affirmative defenses to racial discrimination, employers must disprove the discrimination claim itself. For the employee to be hired or promoted, they must prove that they are minimally qualified for the position.

Employers will respond differently depending on whether the alleged discrimination is intentional or unintentional. In intentional discrimination cases, the employer may argue that the motive was not discrimination but rather a preference for family members.

In the case of unintentional discrimination, the employer can avoid liability by stating that the practice is necessary for business.

Can One Group of Employees Sue for Intentional Discrimination While the Other Group Sues for Unintentional Discrimination?

To avoid unintentional discrimination against a racial “minority,” employers may have to discriminate against a racial “majority” intentionally.

This occurred in Ricci v. DeStefano when a group of white firefighters threatened to sue a city for invaliding a test because too many white firefighters had done well on the test. Latinos and African Americans who failed the test threatened to sue for unintentional discrimination if the test was not invalidated because it was unfairly biased against them.

In Ricci, the Supreme Court resolved this paradox by holding that intentional discrimination is legal as long as the employer has evidence that it would lose an unintentional discrimination lawsuit.

Proving Race Discrimination

Direct or circumstantial evidence can be used to prove race discrimination.

There must be a direct link between the alleged discriminatory animus and the challenged adverse employment action in order to establish that an illegitimate criterion motivated the action. A manager’s admission that they fired an employee based on the employee’s race is an example of direct evidence.

Most race discrimination cases are established through circumstantial evidence, typically using the burden-shifting framework. After an employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.

As soon as the employer meets that burden of production, the plaintiff has the opportunity to prove that the reasons given by the defendant were not true. Pretext is also known as the burden of proof.

Evidence of pretext may include “the employer’s better treatment of similarly situated employees outside the plaintiff’s protected group, its inconsistent or dishonest explanations, its deviation from established procedures or criteria, or the employer’s pattern of poor treatment of other employees in the same protected group as the plaintiff, or other relevant evidence that a jury could reasonably conclude evinces an illicit motive.”

The factfinder may infer that an employer’s undisclosed retaliatory animus caused the termination if a plaintiff can prove that they were fired under suspicious circumstances and that their employer lied about its reasons.

You Can Win Your Race Discrimination Case by Using Title VII and Section 1981 Together

Two important federal laws protect employees from racial discrimination: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and 42 U.S.C. 1981 (Section 1981). Under these two statutes, courts often analyze legal claims in a very similar, if not identical, way, and the same set of facts can be pursued under both laws simultaneously.

Despite their similarities, Congress and the Supreme Court have clarified that they are separate and distinct causes of action.

How Does Title VII Race Discrimination Work?

Racial discrimination in employment can occur in numerous scenarios. People of a different race may be denied promotions, paid less for equal work, disciplined harshly, fired, or denied employment based on their race. Title VII prohibits these occurrences. Additionally, the law prohibits creating or tolerating an environment hostile to workers of a certain race or policies that have a disparate impact on workers of different races.

When I am Interviewing for a Job, For Example, Does the Law Apply?

In general, employers cannot ask job applicants about race, color, or national origin – or show bias in hiring. Interviewers should not say things like:

  • You have a beautiful complexion. What race are you?
  • What is the origin of your people?
  • A first name like that is unusual. There aren’t many employees with names like that at our company.

Ask the interviewer to repeat something like that, so you are certain what was said. The interviewer may realize the error and move on. After the interview, record what happened as soon as possible.

My Boss and Co-Workers Should Not Make Racist Remarks or Jokes. Are There Any Subtle Signs of Racial Discrimination?

If your supervisor constantly draws attention to your hair, even in a positive light, or if you get backhanded praise for being “articulate,” you may be being treated differently. Title VII also protects workers from discrimination based on personal circumstances.

An employer cannot discriminate against you based on the race of your friends – or the skin color of your spouse or partner. It may indicate a hostile work environment if your coworkers typically display photos of their spouses at work, but you feel intimidated from doing so.

What Should I Do if I Am the Victim of Racial Harassment or Discrimination?

It’s a good idea to keep a detailed log of any incidents that you believe demonstrate racial bias at work. Find out what your employer’s reporting policy is and see if it can help. Make sure your rights are protected by consulting with an attorney if you are uncertain about your treatment.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

It can be very difficult to handle discrimination cases. Many procedures must be followed. Moreover, state laws may be equally relevant as federal laws. While the EEOC enforces employment discrimination laws, it does not represent employees. A discrimination lawyer who is familiar with employment discrimination laws can help you with the procedures and help you investigate your claim.


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