Understanding Racial Discrimination Laws
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied any person because of his/her racial group or perceived racial group, his/her race-linked characteristics (e.g., hair texture, color, facial features), or because of his/her marriage to or association with someone of a particular race or color. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. Title VII’s prohibitions apply regardless of whether the discrimination is directed at Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Arabs, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, multi-racial individuals, or persons of any other race, color, or ethnicity.
It is unlawful to discriminate against any individual in regard to recruiting, hiring and promotion, transfer, work assignments, performance measurements, the work environment, job training, discipline and discharge, wages and benefits, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also neutral job policies that disproportionately affect persons of a certain race or color and that are not related to the job and the needs of the business. Employers should adopt “best practices” to reduce the likelihood of discrimination and to address impediments to equal employment opportunity.
Title VII’s protections include:
- Recruiting, Hiring, and Advancement
Job requirements must be uniformly and consistently applied to persons of all races and colors. Even if a job requirement is applied consistently, if it is not important for job performance or business needs, the requirement may be found unlawful if it excludes persons of a certain racial group or color significantly more than others. Examples of potentially unlawful practices include: (1) soliciting applications only from sources in which all or most potential workers are of the same race or color; (2) requiring applicants to have a certain educational background that is not important for job performance or business needs; (3) testing applicants for knowledge, skills or abilities that are not important for job performance or business needs.
Employers may legitimately need information about their employees or applicants race for affirmative action purposes and/or to track applicant flow. One way to obtain racial information and simultaneously guard against discriminatory selection is for employers to use separate forms or otherwise keep the information about an applicant’s race separate from the application. In that way, the employer can capture the information it needs but ensure that it is not used in the selection decision.
Unless the information is for such a legitimate purpose, pre-employment questions about race can suggest that race will be used as a basis for making selection decisions. If the information is used in the selection decision and members of particular racial groups are excluded from employment, the inquiries can constitute evidence of discrimination.
- Harassment/Hostile Work Environment
Title VII prohibits offensive conduct, such as racial or ethnic slurs, racial “jokes,” derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual’s race/color. The conduct has to be unwelcome and offensive, and has to be severe or pervasive. Employers are required to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. Likewise, employees are responsible for reporting harassment at an early stage to prevent its escalation.
- Compensation and Other Employment Terms, Conditions, and Privileges
Title VII prohibits discrimination in compensation and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Thus, race or color discrimination may not be the basis for differences in pay or benefits, work assignments, performance evaluations, training, discipline or discharge, or any other area of employment.
- Segregation and Classification of Employees
Title VII is violated where employees who belong to a protected group are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contact. In addition, employers may not assign employees according to race or color. For example, Title VII prohibits assigning primarily African-Americans to predominantly African-American establishments or geographic areas. It is also illegal to exclude members of one group from particular positions or to group or categorize employees or jobs so that certain jobs are generally held by members of a certain protected group. Coding applications/resumes to designate an applicant’s race, by either an employer or employment agency, constitutes evidence of discrimination where people of a certain race or color are excluded from employment or from certain positions.
Employees have a right to be free from retaliation for their opposition to discrimination or their participation in an EEOC proceeding by filing a charge, testifying, assisting, or otherwise participating in an agency proceeding.