Racial discrimination involves differential treatment or harassment of an employee based on his or her race, national origin or on perceived characteristics or stereotypes associated with a particular race or ethnic group. People of all races and national origins must be treated equally in all aspects of the employment process, including help-wanted ads, interviews, pre-employment testing, hiring, job assignments, shift assignments, promotions, compensation, benefits, job training, layoffs or termination. Employment discrimination on the basis of race or national origin still happens more often than anyone wants to believe; and it is against the law. If your employer is creating or allowing an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment to exist, these practices are also against the law.
Racial discrimination includes harassment based on race. This includes any action that causes an employee to feel uncomfortable at work because of his or her race. Such conduct includes racial “jokes,” derogatory comments about an employee’s race, hostile comments or actions toward the employee based on his or her race, the display of drawings or pictures that negatively portray a particular race, or any other action that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, or interferes with the employee’s work performance. The harassing actions must be “severe and pervasive” to constitute illegal discrimination, meaning that an isolated incident or “offhand teasing” would not give cause for a lawsuit.
Differential treatment occurs when an employee is subjected to adverse employment action because of his or her race or national origin, e.g., if the employee is not hired or is fired because he or she is Asian or African-American. More subtle differential treatment occurs when the employer has a policy or practice which inherently discriminates against members of a particular ethnic group. For example, if the employer requires all employees to meet certain height and weight requirements, people of Asian descent (who are statistically lighter and smaller than individuals in other ethnic groups) will be disproportionately affected by this rule. For an employer to legally maintain such a policy, the height and weight requirements must be clearly related to the physical demands of a particular job (such as constant heavy lifting of objects onto high shelves).
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for complaining about an employer’s failure to abide by employment laws. An employer may not fire, demote or discipline an employee for any formal or informal complaints made about discrimination, harassment or such other employment law.