Race Discrimination

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race. Race discrimination occurs when an employer bases an employment decision on a person’s race rather than on performance on the job or on qualifications to do a job. Race discrimination also occurs when an employer maintains neutral policies that are not related to job qualifications but that tend disproportionately to exclude racial minorities.

The federal law against race discrimination prohibits employers with more than 15 employees from using race as a basis for hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. The law also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. New York State and New York City law extends this protection to employers with more than four employees.

How do I know if I’m a victim of race discrimination?

Race discrimination in the workplace can be extremely subtle and can be occurring even when it seems that an employer is acting evenhandedly. Situations where employers may be using race as a factor in employment decisions might include:

  • You fill out a job application and it asks for information about your race; you don’t get the job.
  • You are scheduled for a promotion, and your employer decides to hire or promote a lesser-qualified person of another race.
  • You work for a company that has clients in areas known for non-violent racial hostility toward minorities. Your employer decides that minorities should not hold positions in which they have to deal with those clients.
  • A company advertises for employees in solicitations that will tend only to reach non-minority applicants.
  • You are receiving excellent performance reviews, but you are being compensated less than other employees of equal seniority who are all white.
  • Your employer downsizes, but all or most of the employees laid off are minority or of one race.
  • Valuable accounts or clients are being steered to non-minority workers.
  • You are kept out of strategic meetings in favor of non-minority workers.

I think I have a race discrimination problem:

  • Act quickly—there is a limited amount of time for you to take legal action.
  • If you were fired and received severance, check the severance agreement to make sure you didn’t waive your rights to claim discrimination. (Even if you did, the waiver may not be valid).
  • Gather written reviews and other documents proving your performance quality, as well as your employee manual, if published.
  • Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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