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What does illegal workplace race discrimination actually look like?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2021 | Employment Law

Race discrimination by employers is prohibited by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate in any aspect of employment, from the initial job advertisement and hiring process to assignments, transfers, participation in training or apprenticeships, working conditions, pay, benefits, promotions, layoffs and terminations. Retaliation against people who complain in good faith about discrimination is also illegal.

But what does race discrimination actually look like?

While many people may not notice blatant forms of discrimination, such as in an employer hiring notice, it does not mean that race discrimination is no longer with us. People who have been affected by discrimination know that it is not uncommon in the American workplace.

A common form of workplace discrimination is when employers rely on stereotypes or unwarranted assumptions about an individual’s abilities, traits or performance because of their racial group. A stereotype can be negative or positive. Both are harmful.

Another way race discrimination has occurred is that an employer takes a negative job action not against the person of a particular race but against their spouse or relative. For example, when a white person marries someone of another race, some employers have retaliated against the white person.

That said, the FEHA and Title VII prohibit denying equal employment opportunities due to marriage to, association with, or participation in organizations because of ethnicity.

The two laws also prohibit:

  • Discrimination based on cultural practices linked to race or ethnicity
  • Prohibition of cultural dress when other forms of casual dress are allowed
  • Prohibiting employees from speaking a language other than English when language is not central to the job duties
  • Discrimination based on an immutable characteristic associated with race, such as color, hair texture or facial features, even if not all members of the race share the characteristic
  • Discrimination based on a condition that predominantly affects a certain race, such as sickle cell anemia, unless the policy is directly job related and represents a business necessity
  • Segregation of employees based on race, such as assigning all Black workers to non-customer-facing positions
  • Using proxies for race to discriminate, such as refusing to hire applicants from particular area codes where racial minorities are common

For example, a company cannot legally have a no-beard policy, absent business necessity, that doesn’t allow an exemption for men who suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae, or severe shaving bumps, since this condition predominantly affects Black men.

However, an employer could probably have a no-beard policy if all workers were required to wear protective gear that would not fit over a beard and it would cause significant trouble and expense to find beard-friendly protective gear.

Race discrimination also includes harassment

Employers, supervisors, co-workers and even third-parties like vendors and customers are not free to harass you based on your race. If your employer becomes aware of such harassment, it has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to stop it.

Harassment includes, for example, ethnic slurs, racial jokes, derogatory or offensive comments or any other physical or verbal conduct based on race (or another protected characteristic). However, one person using a racial slur might not be enough. Harassment is illegal when it creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive working environment or interferes with your ability to perform.

If you feel you may have been discriminated against at work, it is a good idea to talk to an employment law attorney before taking any concrete steps. Your lawyer can help you develop an effective complaint and minimize the possibility of retaliation.

Leigh Law Group handles discrimination and harassment complaints throughout California.