What is Racial Discrimination in the Workplace? - Examples, Statistics & Cases

What is Racial Discrimination in the Workplace? - Examples, Statistics & Cases
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  • 0:00 The CRA and EEOC
  • 1:21 Types of Racial Discrimination
  • 3:09 Statistics
  • 3:45 Landmark Cases
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Fenner

Susan has an MBA in Management from the University of North Alabama. She teaches online and campus-based Business courses.

Racial discrimination in employment situations is illegal in the United States. But how do we recognize it, and what can be done about it? Let's take a closer look.

The CRA and EEOC

If you were to ask the average person on the street, they would likely tell you that racial discrimination is wrong. Everyone knows that! But if you asked them to explain the different ways that discrimination might occur in the workplace, or the laws that protect people from discrimination on the job, or even where to go if they feel they have been discriminated against, you might find them unable to give a clear answer.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964 it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex or gender, religion, or national origin. This applies to all employment situations including hiring, firing, training, promoting, benefits, and wages -- the works! If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you have a right to file a complaint against the employer.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the CRA. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you may file a complaint with the EEOC, and they will investigate the charges. If the EEOC finds that discrimination has occurred, they will try to settle the charges outside of court. If they can't reach a settlement, the EEOC has the authority to file a lawsuit against the employer on your behalf. Let's take a deeper look at racial discrimination in the workplace.

Types of Racial Discrimination

Rational discrimination in the workplace takes three primary forms:

Disparate treatment means that an employer treats an employee differently than other employees who were in the same situation. This may be illegal, depending on the circumstances. An example would be that two employees, John, who is an African American, and Jack, who is white, go to lunch together. They are having such a great time that they forget about the clock and come back an hour late. Of course, the boss is waiting for them, and he is not happy. He fires John on the spot, but lets Jack off with a warning. If the reason the employer fired John and not Jack is because John is black and Jack is white, then this is disparate treatment because of race, which is illegal. But, if the actual reason is because John has been late three times, and this is Jack's first offense, it would be disparate treatment on the basis of attendance, which would be legal.

Disparate impact means that an employer has a practice or policy, usually involving tests for employment or promotion, that affect one group of people more than another group, whether or not it is intentional. For example, Amy Swift, who owns Amy's Steak House, won't hire dishwashers for her restaurant unless they have a high school diploma. If this policy affects African Americans as a group more than it affects whites as a group, it could be a case of disparate impact. Amy would then have the burden of proving that the diploma was necessary to wash dishes or she may be found guilty of illegal discrimination, whether or not her policy was intended to keep African Americans from working there.

A racially hostile work environment is one where racial slurs, racist jokes, derogatory comments, and other offensive behaviors are unwanted, severe, and pervasive, and effect job performance or quality of life of employees.

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