What is race discrimination?
Race discrimination is when an employer, landlord or a merchant refuses to hire, rent or serve an individual because of that person's race or national origin. It is unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge an individual, or to do anything affecting a person's compensation,
terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of that person's race or national origin.
It is equally unlawful for an employer to segregate or classify his employees or applicants for employment on the basis of race or national origin in any way which would deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his or her status as an employee.
Are there federal laws against discrimination?
Yes. The laws most often used to combat racial discrimination in the workplace are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, better known as Section 1981.
Both of these landmark pieces of legislation prohibit the denial of equal opportunities because of race. They protect an individual's rights to compete equally for jobs, to maintain his or her job and enter into contracts.
What about state laws that prohibit race discrimination?
Typically, most states maintain an agency that investigates charges of discrimination. To see if your state has such an agency and whether or not that agency works in conjunction with the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is best to seek legal counsel in your state.
If I believe I have been a victim of race discrimination, what should I do?
If possible, you should contact the human resources or personnel department in the company you work for and discuss your concerns.It is better to address the matter in a non-litigious, non-adversarial fashion. If you feel this approach will not work or if you've already tried it and the conduct you are complaining of still persists, then you need to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a charge of discrimination.
What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, is a federal administrative agency that investigates and sometimes prosecutes claims of discrimination.
In order for your charge of discrimination to be timely filed with the EEOC, it must be filed within 180 days of the last known discriminatory act that occurred. In some states that have similar state agencies, the EEOC and the state agency have a work share agreement that, in some instances, can extend this deadline to 300 days. To see if your state has a work share agreement with the EEOC, please contact an attorney of your choosing in your state.
What if I want to file a lawsuit in federal court? Can I do that instead of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC?
For claims under Title VII, you must file with the EEOC first. If the EEOC has not conducted an investigation or rendered a probable cause finding to determine if there has been discrimination, a party can request a right-to-sue letter, and within 90 days of receipt of that letter, the party can file suit in United States District Court.
What type of damages are available if a party proves there has been discrimination because of race or ethnic background?
Under Title VII the amount of compensatory and punitive damages available depends on the number of employees a business has on its payroll.
$50,000 for employers with 15-100 employees;
$100,000 for employers with 101-200 employees;
$200,000 for employers with 201-500 employees; and
$300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees.
In addition to the caps that have been imposed upon compensatory and punitive damages, the party who prevails at trial will still be able to seek back pay, loss of benefits and injunctive or declaratory relief. The prevailing party at trial may also receive their reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
In some race discrimination cases where Section 1981 is utilized in addition to Title VII, there may be no caps on damages if the award is made under Section 1981. Since there are no caps on the amount of damages, the party is limited only to whatever he or she can prove at trial.
What is injunctive or declaratory relief?
Injunctive or declaratory relief is an order from the court directing an employer to reinstate a worker who has been discriminated against, with all of that person's back wages and other employment benefits restored. If reinstatement is not appropriate because of hard feelings between parties, the court may make an award of compensation in lieu of reinstatement.
Are there any other types of claims that can be made in a race discrimination situation?
Often state claims can be brought at the same time as a federal claim. The state claims may include assault, battery, trespass, negligent retention, wrongful discharge, retaliatory discharge and a whole raft of other claims that may or may not be particular to your state. Since all these claims have different statutes of limitations, which is the period of time during which you must bring your lawsuit or your right to go to court will forever be lost, it is best to contact an attorney in your particular state. He or she can tell you what the statutes of limitation are for any additional state claims which may be brought along with a federal claim.
If I lose my job and I'm a member of a racial minority, is this enough to prove racial discrimination?
Often, there are valid business reasons why individuals have to be terminated from their positions reasons which have nothing to do with race. Inappropriate conduct, such as being impaired on the job, assaulting a co-worker or theft of company property are examples of valid reasons that have nothing to do with an individual's race or ethnic origin. There might also be a circumstance where there has to be a reduction in the work force due to economic reasons. If this reduction in force is carried out in a fair and equal fashion as to all individuals regardless of their race, termination of this nature is considered non-discriminatory.
As in any case where a party is bringing a lawsuit, the burden of proof always lies with the party bringing the suit. Therefore, mere speculation or a "gut feeling" that someone has been discriminated against because of race is not enough to prevail in court. There must be other types of evidence produced before the plaintiff meets his or her burden of proof.