Have you been affected by racial discrimination in the workplace? How about from a legal standpoint? Racial discrimination is a pervasive and persistent problem that affects millions of workers in Chicago and across the country. Let’s take a look at what this means from a legal standpoint.
Addressing and combating racial discrimination in the workplace is not only a legal obligation, but also a moral and business imperative. Creating a fair and inclusive work environment where everyone is respected and valued can benefit both the employees and the employers, as well as the society at large. It can enhance employee satisfaction, engagement, performance, and retention, as well as improve customer service, innovation, and competitiveness.
Understanding Racial Discrimination: Definitions and Forms
“Racial Discrimination” is defined as any adverse action or treatment that is based on or motivated by the race, color, national origin, or ancestry of an employee or a job applicant. It takes various forms in the workplace, something The Crone Law Firm would like to help decrease and you avoid:
- Hiring practices: An employer may discriminate against a person based on their race in the hiring process, such as by rejecting their application, excluding them from interviews, or offering them lower pay or benefits than other candidates with similar qualifications.
- Promotion: An employer may discriminate against a person based on their race in the promotion process, such as by denying them opportunities for advancement, giving them unfavorable performance reviews, or setting unrealistic or unfair goals or expectations.
- Harassment: An employer or a co-worker may harass a person based on their race, such as by making derogatory or offensive comments, jokes, or gestures, displaying racist symbols or images, or creating a hostile or intimidating work environment. Definitely not good.
- Termination: An employer may discriminate against a person based on their race in the termination process, such as by firing them, laying them off, or forcing them to resign for reasons that are not related to their job performance or conduct.
Rights and Protections Under Chicago and Illinois Law
Employees and job applicants in Chicago have the right to be free from racial discrimination in the workplace, and have various legal protections under local, state, and federal laws. Some of the main laws that prohibit racial discrimination in Chicago are:
- The Chicago Human Rights Ordinance: This is a local law that prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, credit transactions, and bonding, as well as retaliation, based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, and other protected characteristics. Employees who believe they have been discriminated against can file a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, which can investigate the allegations, mediate the dispute, or issue a finding and order.
- The Illinois Human Rights Act: This is a state law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, financial credit, and education, as well as retaliation, based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, and other protected characteristics. Employees who believe they have been discriminated against can file a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which can investigate the charge, dismiss it, or file a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
- Federal laws: There are also several federal laws that prohibit racial discrimination in the workplace, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.
These laws provide overlapping but not identical protections for employees and job applicants in Chicago. That’s why it’s important to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.
There are signs and symptoms, and across the board:
These all are based on race, color, natural origin and ancestry – among others based on your situation.
- Being treated differently with employees or applicants with similar qualifications, skills, or performance
- Being subjected to derogatory or offensive comments, jokes, or gestures, or to racist symbols or images
- Being excluded from or denied opportunities for training, development, advancement, or social or professional activities
- Being paid less or receiving fewer benefits than other employees or applicants with similar qualifications, skills, or performance
- Being disciplined, demoted, or terminated for reasons that are not related to your job performance or conduct, or for reasons that are applied differently or more harshly to you than to other employees
Steps to Fight Back Against Racial Discrimination
If you believe you’ve been the victim of racial discrimination in the workplace, we absolutely recommend your first step to be to speak with a qualified attorney in the space. But some of the steps an attorney may recommend could look like the following:
Start documenting specific actions or events that feel racially discriminatory if you’re seeing them in the workplace. We recommend that you save the date, time and people involved, as well as full details about the situation. It helps if you have all written and electronic communications that relate – like emails, texts, memos or letters. Photos, videos and anything you have digitally will also be a key tool. Just make sure the process of documentation is all properly done – both legally and ethically.
And while it may feel uncomfortable, having allies in the workplace that can speak to your experience will be invaluable in fighting back. Be it peers or hopefully speaking to your manager, you’re already setting yourself up for success by having others who can speak to the discriminating actions or events.
Once you’ve taken the right steps internally at your place of work and you want to continue the process, you can file a complaint or a charge with the relevant authorities that enforce the laws against racial discrimination. Follow the rules and procedures of each authority for filing and processing complaints or charges, such as the time limit, the format, the content, and the evidence required. You should also cooperate and participate in any investigation, mediation, conciliation, or hearing conducted by the authority. And again, keep a record.
You can also seek legal recourse by filing a lawsuit in court against your employer or the person who discriminated against you – but it will be more time intensive. You should consult with an experienced employment lawyer (like The Crone Law Firm) who can advise you on the best course of action and the applicable laws and jurisdictions for your case.
Preventive Measures and Creating Inclusive Workplaces
Racial discrimination in the workplace isn’t just a legal issue, but also a social and cultural issue. It’s important for both employers and employees to create inclusive workplaces that foster respect, diversity, and equality – places we all want to go to everyday. Here are some recommendations:
- Adopt and implement clear and comprehensive policies and procedures that prohibit racial discrimination and harassment, and that provide for reporting and resolving discrimination complaints.
- Provide regular training and education to all employees, especially managers and supervisors, on how to recognize, prevent, and respond to racial discrimination and harassment, as well as on how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- Monitor and evaluate the performance and conduct of all employees, and take appropriate disciplinary or corrective action against any employee who engages in or tolerates racial discrimination or harassment, or who retaliates against anyone who reports or opposes such conduct.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – establish and maintain a culture of respect, trust, and openness, where employees feel valued and supported, and where they can communicate and collaborate effectively and constructively.
- Respect everyone. It doesn’t matter what they look like or where they’re from.
- Speak up. Support and encourage others who do the same.
- Seek help and support. From your supervisor, manager, human resources department, or any other appropriate person or authority within your organization, or from external sources, such as lawyers, counselors, or advocates, if you are facing or suffering from racial discrimination or harassment.
- Contribute. Look for opportunities with the diversity and inclusion initiatives and activities in your workplace – there are so many throughout the city – and share your ideas and feedback on how to improve the work environment and culture.
If you are an employee or a job applicant who has been a victim of racial discrimination in the workplace, or you want to learn more, you should not hesitate to contact a lawyer who can help you with your case. Reach out today, we look forward to hearing from you.