Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace is a type of discrimination based on the race of a particular employee. Although strictly prohibited by several federal laws, and laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, racial discrimination is still a problem in private and public companies. It's often difficult to detect compared to other forms of discrimination, making it even harder to prosecute.

Instances of racial discrimination in the workplace come in many forms. This includes:

  • Treating an employee differently based on race
  • Segregating employees of a certain race to particular jobs
  • Making decisions or distinctions based on race
  • Failing to hire a qualified individual based on race

One of the most common misconceptions of racial discrimination is the differentiation between color. While race and color are mostly used interchangeably in speech, the two are not the same in reference to discrimination. Color typically refers to one's skin tone or complexion, while race is someone's ethnic heritage. This is an important distinction to make because it makes a huge difference in how a discrimination suit is filed and tried in court.

Despite the difference in race and color, both are protected under state and local law. In addition, both types of discrimination can occur between people of different races or different colors, as well as the same races or same colors.

How Do I Recognize Racial Discrimination in the Workplace?

Recognizing racial discrimination in the workplace isn't easy, whether during normal office hours or during the hiring processes. The problem is that unless a supervisor or employer admits to discriminatory practices, it's difficult to prove why he or she passed over a person for a promotion or didn't hire a person for a job. It's also hard to file a claim of discrimination, especially for interviewers, employers, or supervisors who don't know that they're acting in a discriminatory way.

While most prosecuted instances of racial discrimination in the workplace are obvious, such as calling a person a derogatory term or telling racially insensitive jokes, other times more substantial evidence is necessary. Some of the less obvious ways to tell racial discrimination include:

  • A company hires someone of another race who has lesser qualifications than the applicant
  • Investigating modern hiring trends in the particular industry
  • Third-party clients show a discomfort in dealing with persons of another race

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and above all, those who feel they have been discriminated against must be able to show the negative job consequences of racial discrimination. More often than not, this may require compiling direct and indirect evidence.

Examples of Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

To better illustrate the idea of racial discrimination in the workplace, these examples are helpful:

  • Harassment: If a co-worker uses racial slurs or jokes, this is harassment. However, the victim needs to first call attention to the insult and tell a supervisor. If the supervisor or company does nothing, it's an example of discrimination.
  • Job Classification: Many employers have several job tiers, but in cases of discrimination, a person may take on more responsibilities and tasks without having an increase in pay or job classification.
  • Firing: Discrimination may occur when a company announces layoffs in a certain department, and although a minority gets fired, other employees of a different race with lesser seniority or skills keep their job.
  • Pay: This may go hand in hand with classification, but also with new hires. An example might be a minority who works up to a position, but an employee of a different race with a lesser degree makes more. A person of a certain race may also find that a new hire of a different race makes more than he or she does, despite the current worker having seniority.
  • Promotion: If a worker has shown his or her commitment to a company by putting together stellar work, receiving top-notch reviews, and even garnering awards, that person is definitely an asset to the company. However, if this same person applies for a promotion but gets overlooked again and again in favor of less-qualified individuals of a different race, this could constitute racial discrimination.

Individuals who find themselves victims of this type of discrimination are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provided they work at a company of 15 or more employees.

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