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What Should I Do, If I’m Being Racially Discriminated Against at Work?

Under federal law, it is illegal to harass a person in any aspect of employment because of that person’s race or color. Harassment can include racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols. Racial harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim of the harassment being fired or demoted).

Although many federal and state laws do not specifically define race harassment or make it illegal, courts have found that racial harassment is a form of race discrimination which violates the laws against race discrimination in the workplace.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that protects individuals from discrimination based on race. This law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals because of their race in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment, such as promotions, raises, and other job opportunities.

One legal requirement for racial harassment is that the conduct is “unwelcome.” A harasser may try to defend him or herself by attacking your job performance. Keep copies of any records of your work performance, including copies of your performance evaluations and any memoranda or letters documenting the quality of your work. If you do not have copies of relevant documents, try to gather them (by legitimate means only). Under some state laws or company policies you are allowed to review your personnel file, so you should review your file if that is allowed. You should either make copies of relevant documents or take detailed notes of what is in the file if you are not allowed to copy the contents.

An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure should contain, at a minimum, the following elements:

  • A clear explanation of prohibited conduct;
  • Assurance that employees who make complaints of harassment or provide information related to such complaints will be protected against retaliation;
  • A clearly described complaint process that provides accessible avenues of complaint;
  • Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible;
  • A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation; and
  • Assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred.

Victims of racial harassment can recover remedies to include:

  • back pay;
  • hiring;
  • promotion;
  • reinstatement;
  • front pay;
  • compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering);
  • punitive damages (damages to punish the employer);
  • other actions that will make an individual “whole” (in the condition s/he would have been but for the discrimination).
  • Remedies also may include payment of:
  • attorneys’ fees;
  • expert witness fees; and
  • court costs.
  • An employer may be required to post notices to all employees addressing the violations of a specific charge and advising them of their right to be free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. If necessary, such notices must be accessible to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency of the federal government responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to race discrimination in workplaces of 15 or more employees. Most states have their own agencies that enforce state laws against discrimination.

 

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