Legal Guide to Racial Discrimination in the Workplace in 2019

Sep 16, 2019 | Discrimination, Employment Lawsuits

Treating a job seeker or employee unfavorably based on their race or personal characteristics/attributes associated with race (like skin color, hair texture, or facial features) amounts to racial discrimination in the workplace. 

Color discrimination is a form of racial discrimination solely based on a person’s skin color. Although racial discrimination or racism is usually associated with perpetrators of another race, discrimination can also be inflicted by persons of the same color or race. 

Racial Discrimination in the Workplace Laws

Although state anti-discrimination laws exist in different states in the US, they mirror federal anti-discrimination laws on race, specifically Title VII Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964. The primary difference is usually procedural, and the agencies used to launch a claim. Title VII protects employees from; being denied employment, being dismissed or disciplined, being paid less or receiving fewer benefits and being segregated or classified improperly, all because of race. 

Title VII also prohibits employment agencies from making decisions on work assignments and referrals based on a person’s race. Furthermore, labor unions and their representatives can’t deny a person membership or expel them based on their race. 

Racial discrimination in the workplace statistics 2016, 2017 and 2018

The EEOC is the agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination against employees and job applicants based on race or color. According to data compiled from the EEOC charge data system on racial discrimination in workplace charges filed under Title VII, there were 32,309, 28,528, and 24,600 charges filed in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively. 

Over the past 20 years, 2011 saw the highest filings at 35,395 while 2018 saw the lowest filings at 24,600. Generally, most racism cases in workplaces have ended in resolutions for the past two decades. Year 2016, 2017 and 2018 saw 33,936, 34,229 and 30,564 resolutions respectively. 

Most racism in the workplace cases are resolved via no reasonable cause. In the past 3 years, there were 73.7%, 75.5% and 76.8% resolutions by no reasonable cause which simply means, more often than not, the EEOC doesn’t find a reason to believe discrimination occurred. 

The second most popular case resolution is administrative closures. 13.1%, 12.5% and 11.2% cases were closed in 2016, 2017 and 2018 for administrative reasons which ranges from failing to find charging party, lack of responses to EEOC communication and refusal by charging party to accept full relief to closure because of related litigation outcomes, which establish precedence and charging party request to withdraw charges. Some cases are also closed because there lacks statutory jurisdiction or because the issue has been resolved. 

Very few cases are resolved by settlements and withdrawals with benefits. In 2018, for instance, only 4.9% of cases ended in settlements and 4.3% were withdrawn with benefits. The total monetary benefits received for race discrimination cases in the US stood at $79 million, $75.9 million and $71.3 million in 2016, 2017, and 2018 respectively. 

Given most cases are dismissed for lacking a reasonable cause or because of administrative reasons, the importance of hiring a workplace discrimination lawyer initially can’t be overlooked. If you seek legal help immediately after being a victim of racism in your workplace, you can be able to collect admissible evidence and build a case that will result in a favorable outcome. 

Racial discrimination examples in the workplace

Racial discrimination at work can take many forms. Title VII racial discrimination protections in the workplace cover;

I. Recruitment, hiring and advancement

According to Title VII, job requirements should be consistently and uniformly applied to individuals of all colors and races. Any requirement that doesn’t follow these principles can be found unlawful especially if requirements exclude or favor a certain race more than others. For instance, an employer can’t solicit applications from workers belonging to a certain race or require applicants to meet guidelines that aren’t necessary for business needs and job performance. 

Although an employer may need information pertaining to race from applicants or employees for affirmative action reasons or to track applicants flow, there are guidelines for obtaining such information without discrimination. For instance, an employer can use separate forms to collect race information avoiding the use of such information as a basis for making selection decisions. 

II. Compensation among other employment terms

Title VII also prohibits racial discrimination when determining compensation, among other terms of employment. If an employer offers pay or benefit differences, work assignments, training, and performance evaluations solely based on race, this constitutes racial discrimination in the workplace. Title VII also prohibits disciplining or discharging employees based on race.

III. Retaliation 

Employees are free to raise racial discrimination issues without fear of retaliation. Any witnesses to such cases are also protected if they choose to testify in EEOC proceedings. Any employer who discharges, demotes, or retaliates in any other way on subjects and witnesses to racism cases in the workplace is guilty of discrimination. 

IV. Harassment 

Ethnic slurs, offensive or derogatory racial jokes and comments among other verbal or physical behavior or conduct based on a person’s race constitutes unlawful harassment. This is true if the conduct intimidates, creates a hostile working environment or interferes with a person’s work performance. 

V. Segregation

If employees are segregated from fellow employees or customer contact because of their race, this constitutes to racism in the workplace. Title VII also protects minorities in workplaces from being assigned to minority establishment or locations. The law also prohibits the exclusion of minorities from holding certain positions or grouping employees and jobs in such a manner that they are held by minorities. Racially motivated decisions inspired by business concerns are also prohibited by law. For instance, roles should not be assigned to employees belonging to a certain group because of concerns about the reactions of customers or clients.

VI. Pre-employment inquiries & requirements

Employers shouldn’t ask for pre-employment information capable of disclosing an applicant’s race as the exclusion of a minority group from employment would act as evidence of discrimination. Pre-employment information requests such as criminal history or background checks disclose an individual’s race offering viable evidence for discrimination. Although Title VII doesn’t prohibit employers from using criminal records when hiring, the use of such information must be in accordance with the nondiscrimination requirements stipulated in Title VII. 

Effect of racial discrimination in the workplace

Racism in workplaces should be condemned for many reasons. The main ones include;

1. Stalled careers

The most common effect of racism in workplaces today is poor career progression. Minorities, in most instances, tend to move very slowly or stagnate career-wise. It is impossible to have a steady career growth when you can’t get a job because of your race or when you are denied a promotion or training because you are a minority. 

2. Physical and mental health problems

The effects of racial discrimination in the workplace go beyond having a stalled career. The burden and stresses of dealing with discrimination and harassment on a daily basis can have dire consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. Numerous studies have covered this subject. One such study links discrimination in the workplace to higher levels of physical and mental health problems.  

The study links racial discrimination to an increased probability of smoking. Workplace bullying and sexual harassment are linked to an increased likelihood of alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism. Physical effects like pains and aches related to working under stressful environments are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular illness, obesity, breast cancer, and high blood pressure. The mental effects of discrimination include; depression, poor self control, anxiety disorders, hostility, and increased risk of suicide. 

3. Poor productivity

Other effects on employees who are subject to discrimination include poor focus and counterproductive working behavior such as lateness, leaving work early, and failure to complete tasks. The physical and mental problems, as well as their effects, have a dire impact on the “bottom-line” of any business. 

Employer’s role in promoting a racism-free working environment

As seen above, employers stand to lose a lot from unfavorable working environments characterized by racism. Employers have a duty to create awareness and nurture a diverse workplace. Employees should be aware of the law and guidelines governing racial discrimination in the workplace. Communication is a vital ingredient. Employers should be approachable and inclusive. A culture of diversity makes all employees respectful and valuable. Most importantly, employers enjoy higher productivity rates and fewer to no instances of discrimination lawsuits which should have been avoidable.  

What should be done about racism in the workplace?

If you are a victim of racism at work, you need to find a workplace discrimination lawyer immediately. As seen in the statistics above about racism cases in workplaces in the US, most of these cases are either dismissed because the evidence produced isn’t concrete or because of technicalities. Having legal advice is the difference between winning and losing a discrimination case. 

A workplace discrimination attorney can help you collect admissible evidence. He/she can also help you with the technicalities of filing your case with the EEOC, among other things such as negotiating a fair settlement. If you report racism instances to your employer, they may not take any action. In most cases, you risk retaliatory action. If prior instances of discrimination aren’t documented accordingly, you stand to lose your job and the possibility of being compensated. Title VII has adequate protection against all forms of discrimination at work. However, you need legal advice to build a strong case.

Racial discrimination cases

Many employers who have failed to address discrimination in the workplace have learned the hard way. Here are examples of racial discrimination in the workplace cases that have caught the attention of the public. 

1. Wal-Mart vs. black truck drivers

Wal-Mart has been subject to a class action suit for discriminating approximately 4500 black truck drivers who sought out to work for the retailer between the years 2001 and 2008. According to the drivers, the retailer denied them employment based on their race. Although Wal-Mart denied any wrongdoing, the case ended in a $17.5 million settlement.  Wal-Mart has been subject to other racial discrimination lawsuits. Other notable suits include one in 2010 involving West African employees working in Colorado who were dismissed by supervisors in favor of local job seekers. 

2. Southern California Edison 

Electrical Services Company, Southern California Edison is famous for having a history of racial discrimination lawsuits. In 2010, the company was sued by black workers accusing the company of unequal pay, biased job assignments, denying them promotions consistently and failing to uphold two consent decrees from class-action suits filed against the company in 1994 and 1974. The suit also accused the company of reducing the number of black workers by a record 40% since the last lawsuit was filed. In 1994, Southern California Edison agreed to settle for $11 million+ and offer diversity training. 

3. Denny’s vs. Black Diners 

Back in 1994, Denny’s restaurant chain settled a $54.4 million lawsuit for discriminating against black diners. According to the black dinners, black customers were being singled out at restaurants and asked to prepay or being subjected to a cover before dinning. Black secret service agents attested to waiting for over an hour to get service as they watched white dinners being waited on severally. Additionally, a former manager attested to supervisors advising him to close down if he attracted a lot of black dinners. 

4. Abercrombie & Fitch

Back in 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch made headlines after being sued for racially discriminating Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. The clothing retailer was accused by Asians and Latinos for offering them roles in the stock rooms as opposed to the sales floors since the retailer wanted to maintain a “classically American” look. Minorities also accused the retailer of unfair dismissal in favor of white workers. Abercrombie & Fitch paid a settlement of $50 million. After the lawsuit’s resolution, Eric Drieband, the EEOC lawyer handling the case stated that the ruling was a lesson to the retail industry among other industries prone of racial discrimination under the pretense of marketing strategy or maintaining a certain look. 

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