What laws protect me from racial discrimination? Despite major gains made during the civil rights movement racism does still exist in the United States. Often, racism is passive and implicit, and therefore unnoticeable. In other cases it is loud and very public. All forms of racism and race discrimination are made illegal in the workplace by a patchwork of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. If you believe that you may be a victim of race discrimination, you should contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney to help discuss your options.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII is the federal government’s flagship anti-discrimination law, and it makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of an employee’s race, color, or national origin. Specifically, Title VII bars an employer from taking any adverse employment action such as firing or not hiring/promoting an employee because of the employee’s race. It also bars any employer’s policy that results in race discrimination, even if the policy was not created with an intent to discriminate. Title VII is the most important federal anti-discrimination law because it is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which is the federal government’s anti-discrimination watchdog agency. Before filing a lawsuit, all victims of race discrimination must file a complaint with the EEOC, which will then investigate on the employee’s behalf.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866
A second law that bars race discrimination in the employment context is known as the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This law, which is contained in the U.S. Code at 42 U.S.C. § 1981, is a Reconstruction-era law that was recently re-interpreted by the Supreme Court to make race discrimination in employment illegal. As written, § 1981 makes racial discrimination in contracts illegal. As all employment relationships exist as either express or implied contracts between employers and employees, § 1981 has the effect of making race discrimination in employment illegal. Unlike Title VII lawsuits, victims of race discrimination do not have to file a complaint with the EEOC before proceeding to file a lawsuit under § 1981.
Race-Based Harassment in the Workplace
Just as sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, race-based harassment is also illegal under federal law. Under Title VII, if an employer either creates a hostile work environment for members of a racial group or fails to remedy a reported hostile work environment, the employer can be held liable for damages. A hostile work environment can be created by repeated instances of racial slurs, unwanted physical contact, or race-oriented jokes or comments.
State Anti-Discrimination Laws May Also Apply
All states also have enacted laws regulating employment within each state, and many of those laws ban race discrimination. While it would take too long to explain each state’s anti-discrimination laws, it is important to understand that generally, state anti-discrimination laws that prevent race discrimination are designed to fill gaps in federal anti-discrimination law. In other words, if federal law does not apply in your situation, you should ask an employment law attorney if state law might apply instead.