Recognizing racial discrimination in the workplace

As much as we would all like to believe that race and color discrimination has been largely rooted out in the United States, we all know better. As problems with racial discrimination continue to exist in society at large, they are bound to creep into the workplace as well.

Employers who are concerned and proactive with their corporate culture may train employees on discrimination in the workplace and promote diversity, but racial discrimination can still slip in through the cracks. Recognizing when discrimination has taken place is important so that employees know when to take action. 

Discrimination in the workplace falls into two basic categories: disparate treatment and disparate impact. Disparate treatment is the more direct form of racial discrimination, in that it directly involves racial bias in the making of employment decisions. This bias may be overt and obvious, but it may also be less obvious. Rarely is there going to be clear evidence of racial bias in racial discrimination cases, as employers will attempt to cover their tracks.

The types of evidence that can demonstrate racial bias include things like:

  • Verbal or written statements related to the employee’s race
  • Evidence of the employer’s treatment of similarly situated employees of a different race
  • Evidence of patterns of behavior relevant to racial differences in the workplace
  • Deviation from established personnel policies and practices
  • Statistics relating to the employer’s employment policies and practices
  • The race of the individual who made the employment decision

Even if there is some evidence of racial bias, a single piece of evidence may not be enough to prove disparate treatment definitively. Typically, an employer will attempt to explain away evidence suggesting illegal discrimination, but the explanation must be scrutinized for reasonableness to determine whether it adds to or takes away from the allegations of illegal discrimination. Looking at the totality of the circumstances is crucial to building the strongest possible case.

In our next post, we’ll look at racial discrimination cases based on disparate impact and the role an experienced attorney can plan in helping an individual pursue a claim of illegal discrimination in the workplace.

Source: EEOC Compliance Manual: Section 15—Race and Color Discrimination, 2006. 

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