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Can I Sue for Race Discrimination?


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The Civil Rights Act of 1967 made discrimination on the basis of race illegal in all 50 states. Today's employers typically employ antidiscrimination policies and diversity initiatives as well. Even so, discriminatory behaviors and actions still occur, even when the employer does not sanction such actions. If you are the victim of racially motivated harassment or discrimination, you must prove race discrimination. Direct evidence in these cases is rare; even racists realize discrimination on the basis of race is illegal. Indirect, or circumstantial, evidence is more commonly used to prove race discrimination.

Examples of Race Discrimination

There are many ways employers demonstrate racial bias in the workplace. For example, races may be segregated into particular jobs, racial stereotypes may form the basis of decisions, and treatment of employees may be influenced by race. These scenarios manifest in a variety of ways. A retail outlet may routinely place Caucasian employees in sales positions and Hispanics in warehouse jobs. More subtle discriminatory practices include channeling lighter-skinned African Americans into positions with regular interactions with the public, while placing darker-skinned African American in positions out of the public eye.

Race-based harassment is also illegal, including racist jokes and comments. How do you know if a joke is racist? If you substitute the word "people" for the race and the joke ceases to be "funny," then you're telling a racist joke and are guilty of illegal racial harassment.

How Do I Prove Race Discrimination?

Direct evidence of race discrimination is rare, but it includes statements specifically mentioning race, either in writing an informal policy or a spoken statement. This may take the form of an email directing management to make hiring decisions based on race, or a conversation between two people in leadership. Again, though, this is rare. You likely need to base your claim on indirect evidence.

This requires proving a prima facie case of discrimination. Prima facie cases include four parts:

  1. You are in a protected class (meaning antidiscrimination laws exist to protect you: race, age, gender, etc.)
  2. You are both qualified for and adequately perform your job
  3. You were denied a benefit (such as a promotion) or subjected to negative action (such as demotion)
  4. The person receiving the benefit is of a different race (or the company did not hire you, despite qualifications, and continued its search for applicants) Proving prima facie requires meeting all four items. This means that, if you were denied a promotion and you believe your race influenced the decision, you must prove you were qualified but did not get the promotion and that the person who did was of a different race.

Your employer, upon receiving this evidence, must prove legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its action. In the example above, this may include claims that you lacked the skills or experience the promotion required.

Now the burden is on you to prove this explanation invalid. Typically, this may include presenting evidence that the person receiving the promotion had less experience than you, that your qualifications were ample, or the company's history of promoting people of your race (or not promoting them).

How Do I File an Internal Race Discrimination Complaint?

The first step in a discrimination case is always filing a formal complaint internally, using the company's protocol for such action. Follow these instructions exactly, make a copy for your own records, and request a copy be added to your employment file. Do not skip this step; it is vital to proving your discrimination case. The company cannot be held liable without proof that it refused to act on discrimination charges. Additionally, if your employer ignores an internal complaint, you open the possibility of receiving punitive damages. Punitive damages are only awarded as punishment for egregious behavior.

How Do I File an Administrative Race Discrimination Complaint?

The law requires filing an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as any applicable state agency. You may not file a lawsuit until you complete this step. The EEOC notifies your employer and investigates your claim before issuing you a right-to-sue letter. Upon receipt of this, you are legally allowed to file a lawsuit.

Both the EEOC and the court prefer mediation, and either one (or both) may request both parties engage in a mediation conference. This provides an opportunity to settle, which includes a monetary award.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Race Discrimination Attorney

If you are the victim of race discrimination, schedule a free consultation with an employment attorney. He or she evaluates the facts of your case and offers advice on its merits and viability, as well as what you can expect to receive in damages.

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