Race discrimination in the workplace occurs when a covered employer treats an individual unfavorably because that individual belongs to a certain race, because the individual displays personal characteristics associated with race (e.g., hair texture, skin color, certain physical features), or because the individual is affiliated with or married to a person of a certain race or color. Race discrimination can occur when the accuser and the accused are the same race or color, in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, demotions, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

What Constitutes Race Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against employees or applicants based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, by employers with 15 or more employees. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination based on race by an employer that employs five or more employees. To have a legally actionable claim under FEHA, an employee must be able to show that a negative employment action was taken against him or her and that the reason for that negative action was substantially motivated by race. The employee does not have to show exactly why the employer is discriminating against the employee, provided it’s clear the individual was subject to discriminatory treatment because of race, color, physical characteristics relating to a race or color, or association with/marriage to a person of a particular race or color.

Race discrimination can appear in a variety of forms, including racial harassment. Examples of legally actionable harassment include verbal conduct (e.g., using racial slurs or making derogatory remarks about a person’s color), physical conduct (e.g., touching an individual’s hair), or visual conduct (e.g., the display of racially offensive symbols). The law does not provide liability for trivial or sporadic instances of teasing, offhand comments, or isolated, “minor” incidents. As is the case with hostile work environment harassment, race discrimination is illegal when it is considered severe and/or pervasive. Race discrimination is legally actionable when it creates a hostile work environment and/or when it leads to an adverse employment decision (e.g., the conduct results in the victim being fired or demoted).

Race discrimination can include the conduct of a direct or indirect supervisor, a coworker, or a client or customer of the employer. Moreover, an employment policy or practice that applies to all employees, regardless of race or color, is not de facto legal. A facially color-neutral policy or practice may be illegal if it disproportionately and unfavorably impacts the employment of individuals of a particular race or color, and provided any adverse effect among groups of employees resulting from the policy is not necessary to the operation of the business. 

Race Discrimination: How We Can Help

Our attorneys routinely provide compliance training for employers larger and small with materials informed by the most recent race discrimination actions and cases. Establishing a positive work environment free from all forms of discrimination is essential to our role helping employers with compliance. The labor and employment attorneys at Payne & Fears also have extensive experience defending clients against alleged race discrimination claims, whether these claims are made before administrative entities such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in litigation in state or federal courts.

Payne & Fears represents employers from a cross-section of industries in race discrimination matters. Our Labor & Employment Law attorneys work with the most recent developments in employment case law. Though we emphasize helping clients foster a workplace free from all forms of discrimination and harassment through training and compliance counsel, we don’t shy away from a fight and are prepared to defend our clients in race discrimination matters of any size.