Reverse Discrimination: Everything You Need to Know

Reverse discrimination is something that occurs on a daily basis. Most people are not even aware that this even exists. It is referred to as a type of discrimination wherein members of a majority group (i.e. Christians, males, Caucasians) are discriminated against based on their color, race, gender, age, or other type of protected characteristic. At times, the term is also referred to as affirmative action, which is an action or program established to advance or promote minorities and address the problem of inequality.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964

While it is not explained under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 identifies that discrimination is illegal for certain protected groups.

Because anti-discrimination laws were originally enacted to prevent discrimination against minorities and groups that were historically disadvantaged and denied opportunities in the workplace, there has sometimes existed a perception that members of majority groups are not protected by the same laws.

However, anti-discrimination laws generally prohibit all forms of discrimination based on protected characteristics, including those against members of a majority group. Courts have battled with different sorts of discrimination cases, including those thought to be reverse discrimination.  

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, managers may not discriminate against someone based on their race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality. Similarly, even those in the majority group (i.e. males) are protected from discrimination. In a case of discrimination, the individual must demonstrate that he was actually treated unjustly in such a way due to his gender.

Examples of Reverse Discrimination

  • Refusing to hire or fire someone under the age of 40 in favor of someone who is over the age of 40
  • Hiring or promoting certain groups of minorities, despite the seniority of others. For example, if only women are promoted and not men, then the male colleagues could potentially have a case of reverse discrimination.
  • Rejecting an applicant from a position to instead hire a minority applicant solely on the basis of race. This can be hard to prove. 
  • Similarly, rejecting someone as a student for a University or College to instead admit a minority application solely based on that person’s minority status.

Elements of Reverse Discrimination

The employee must prove that he or she belongs to a majority class of people (from a specific gender, race, religion, etc.) and that other people, outside of his class, have received favorable treatment. Similar to a discrimination suit, the elements of reverse discrimination must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Remember that, oftentimes, employers can often prove that it does not constitute reverse discrimination. For example, an employer can indicate that it chose to promote those individuals due to their experience, educational background, and otherwise length of time with the company. With that being said, it is important for an employee to understand his or her rights and responsibilities if wishing to bring an action against an employer for reverse discrimination.

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is a policy or action taken by members of a minority status who suffer some sort of discrimination. It is aimed to achieve goals of bridging inequality in employment and pay, promoting diversity, education, and other peaceful endeavors. The term itself was first used in the U.S. under Executive Order No. 10925, signed into law on March 6, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. It is primarily used to promote actions that are non-discriminative in nature. Therefore, several groups of minorities have grouped together to achieve the same goal – equality. Such minority groups include:

  • African Americans
  • Women
  • Other religious minority groups

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, these groups, as well as other protected groups, cannot be discriminated against. Unfortunately it does still happen in this day and age. And in order to promote equality, affirmative action is usually taken to showcase the importance of equality. Perhaps reverse discrimination is viewed as just that. A reverse of the general discrimination we all think of when it comes to protected groups. Therefore, in reverse discrimination, instead of a protected group voices their concerns, it is a majority group, or someone in a majority group.

What Should I Do if Reverse Discrimination Occurs in the Workplace?

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work, you must first speak to either your manager or an HR representative. If you don’t feel comfortable going this route, you could always reach out to a qualified employment lawyer who can assist you with next steps. But before you do anything else, you will want to first build your case and document everything that has been happening. Print out emails. Document dates/times of communications and actions taken. If you do feel comfortable with speaking to your HR department, then you should do this first. This may in fact fix the problem before you need to take it to the next step of speaking with an attorney. You could even advise your HR department that, if the problem is not handled efficiently, then you will utilize next steps. You do want to be careful in how much information you share with your HR department, as you don’t want to threaten a lawsuit. However, if you notice that your HR representative or even your manager is ignoring your claims, then you can indicate that you will be forced to take next steps to ensure that the discrimination stops.

If you do choose to speak to an attorney, you’ll want to make sure that you provide your attorney with all of the relevant and pertinent facts of your case. She can’t help you unless she truly understands the problem and what is going on. She can assist you in the process of filing a formal complaint through the legal system, and also provide you with some tips for documenting additional actions taken on the part of your employer. This can be a stressful time, so you want to make sure that you utilize your attorney in every way possible so that you have the most favorable outcome.

If you are suffering from what you believe to be reverse discrimination, you’ll want to be careful what details you share with colleagues, particularly if you don’t plan on sharing such concerns with your manager. If, however, you see another colleague experiencing the same type of discrimination due to that person’s status in a majority group, then you may want to speak to that person outside of the workplace to compare notes and work on bringing a case together against your employer.

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