Racial discrimination remains a major problem in American society. Although signs such as “whites only” may have disappeared, discrimination against blacks (or African-Americans) and other racial minorities persists under the surface. The law strictly prohibits an employer from making employment decisions based on race.
State and federal law prohibit both intentional racial discrimination as well as certain unintentional discrimination. Employment actions that have a disproportionate effect on racial minorities may be illegal, even if the policy or practice at issue is itself neutrally applied, if such actions are not based on a legitimate business necessity or if less discriminatory alternatives to the actions are feasible. It is important to realize that discrimination occurs in many ways, from the obvious to the subtle. The ultimate focus under the law is whether an employment action occurred due to a discriminatory motive.
A common way to detect unlawful discrimination is to compare an employer’s treatment of similar non-minorities. For instance, if a company disciplines a black employee for an actual violation of company policy, but the company has not disciplined many non-black employees for the same violation, there would be a strong argument that the different treatment of the black employee resulted from a discriminatory motive. Similarly, if a company denies an open position to a minority applicant due to a lack of a specific qualification, but offers the position to a non-minority who also lacks the same qualification, this may demonstrate discrimination. Although one should not assume that discrimination has occurred whenever an employment action results in negative consequences on a minority, there is often a hidden discriminatory motive behind such decisions.
It is also illegal for an employer to create or allow a hostile work environment based on an employee’s race. This can occur when supervisors use racial slurs directed toward, or in the presence of, a minority of the same race, or when the company knows of and tolerates such conduct by co-workers. The employee must prove that the racial slurs or other conduct created an environment that is intimidating and/or hostile to a degree that it interferes with the employee’s work performance.
The Law Office of Joseph L. Sulman offers expert legal representation in the area of racial discrimination. Please also visit the Boston Employment Discrimination Blog for updates about the latest developments in employment discrimination law.