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

To succeed in a claim of employment discrimination based on race, you do not need to prove that your race was the only factor in the employer’s decision. If you can show that it significantly influenced the decision, you can win, even if the employer had other, legitimate reasons for his or her decision.

How Can An Employee File a Discrimination Lawsuit?

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

Remember that the EEOC represents the federal government, not individual employees. Even if the EEOC launches its own investigation, the employee can still ask for a right to sue letter so that the employee can seek his or her own compensation.

What If the Employer Did Not Intend To Discriminate?

Employers do not have to specifically intend to discriminate. However, discrimination must be caused by an intentional act. This is a fine, but important distinction. As such, there are two different types of discrimination claims. The first type focuses on the employer’s motives while the second type focuses on whether the employer’s act adversely affects certain racial groups. It is possible to bring both types of claims if the employee is unsure as to which type of discrimination he or she is facing.

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. It is assumed that there is no job where belonging to a particular race could disqualify an employee.

Since there are no affirmative defenses to racial discrimination, employers have to rely on disproving the racial discrimination claim itself. If the claim is about being hired or being promoted to a position, the employee must prove that he or she is minimally qualified for the position in question.

Other employer responses will differ based on whether the alleged discrimination is intentional or unintentional. If the discrimination claim is intentional, the employer can try to say that the motive was not discrimination, but another reason like a preference to hire family members.

If the claim is unintentional discrimination, the employer can avoid liability by saying that the specific practice is necessary for business and related to the job in question.

What If One Group of Employees Sues For Intentional Discrimination While the Other Group Sues For Unintentional Discrimination?

The two types of discrimination claims sometimes cause employers to be “caught between a rock and a hard place.” In an effect to avoid unintentional discrimination against a racial “minority,” an employer may have to intentionally discrimination against a racial “majority.” This occurred in Ricci v. DeStefeno 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. The Latinos and African Americans who did not score well threatened to sue for unintentional discrimination if the test was not invalided because the test has been unfairly biased against them.

The United States Supreme Court resolved this paradox in Ricci by ruling that intentional discrimination could be legal as long as the employer has a strong basis in the evidence presented that the employer would lose an unintentional discrimination case.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Discrimination cases can be very complicated. There are many procedures that must be followed. In addition, there are state laws which may be just as relevant as federal laws. Although the EEOC enforces employment discrimination laws, it does not actually represent employees. An discrimination lawyer who is familiar with employment discrimination laws can help you with the procedures and help you investigate your claim.