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The EEOC: Race and Color Discrimination

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What is the EEOC?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) works to eradicate all forms of workplace discrimination.  One of the chief forms of discrimination is based on an employee’s race and color.  The EEOC has the power to sue violating employers in court, but the EEOC also outreaches to educate the public about what race and color discrimination is. 

How Does The EEOC Respond To Cases of Discrimination?

The EEOC has a variety of methods it can use to address discrimination. If the discrimination came to the attention of the EEOC through an employee’s complaint, the EEOC, after an initial investigation, will offer to help mediate the dispute between the employee and the employer. If the mediation fails, the EEOC, the employee, or both, can bring a lawsuit against the employer.

If the EEOC discovers discrimination through its own investigations, the EEOC has the power to either sanction the employer (monetary fines), or bring the employer to court.

How Does the EEOC Identify Discrimination Based on Race and Color?

The EEOC’s guide to race and color discrimination describes subtle forms of racism in the workplace.  First of all, there are discriminatory hiring practices.  For example, the EEOC cites studies that show that Whites with a criminal record get three times as many callbacks as Blacks with the same criminal record, and even more callbacks than Blacks with no record.  The EEOC states that temp agencies prefer White applicants 3 to 1 over Black.  The EEOC cites studies showing that equally impressive resumes with common Black names are 50% less likely to get interviews. 

There is also discrimination on the jobsite.  A recent lawsuit that EEOC filed involved a supervisor who called an employee by a racial slur spelled backwards.  The EEOC takes incidents involving “code words” very seriously.  The EEOC maintains that the law does not only recognize certain established racial slurs in a cut-and-dry and categorical fashion.  The EEOC considers all of the facts, context, and circumstances, such as who is stating the slurs, their tone of voice, and the employer’s intent in so doing. 

The EEOC states that part of race discrimination includes culture discrimination, which in turn includes speech or dialect discrimination.  The EEOC also files lawsuits based on discriminatory practices aimed at ancestry, physical characteristics, race-linked illness, and even the perception that an employee is a certain race, even though he or she may not be.  The EEOC considers all cases of discrimination equally, even charges of “reverse discrimination” against Whites. 

Because charges of racial discrimination are subtle, they do not usually involve a “smoking gun.”  To combat unintentional discrimination, EEOC investigators must look very closely at all surrounding circumstances, including the diversity of the employer, the employees involved, and the diversity of the workforce outside of the employer. 

Does The EEOC Only Address Unintentional Discrimination?

The EEOC deals with intentional as well as unintentional discrimination.

What If the Employer Has a Legitimate Reason for Its Discriminatory Practice?

The employer can escape liability if the employer has a legitimate business reason for its practices. If the case involves unintentional discrimination, the employee can still win if he or she shows that there is an alternative way to accomplish the same goals without the racial discrimination. If the case involves intentional discrimination, the employee will prevail if he or she shows that the reason given by the employer is just a cover-up for discrimination.

The EEOC has the power to bring such cases to court.  

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The EEOC fights racial discrimination, but it does so on behalf of the federal government. The EEOC does not represent employees. An experienced employment attorney can represent an employee in an anti-discrimination lawsuit.

If your business is being investigated by the EEOC, it would be wise to have an employment attorney represent you so that you can avoid costly sanctions or damage awards.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 01-03-2017 02:58 PM PST

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