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Racial Discrimination in Employment: Combating Bias and Seeking Justice

by | Dec 4, 2023 | Discrimination, General Issues

hand separating one figure from the group illustrating discrimination


For decades, federal, state, and local laws in the United States have prohibited employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on race and other protected characteristics. With the help of legal counsel, asserting your rights under these laws can help you address some of the harm caused by such discrimination.

    Direct vs. Indirect Discrimination

    Intentional discrimination, which attorneys often call “disparate treatment,” is when an employer purposely bases an employment decision on race. However, unintentional discrimination may also be illegal in certain circumstances. This occurs when an employer implements a policy or practice that is neutral on its face, but results in screening out members of a racial group at a disproportionally higher rate than other groups, regardless of intent.

    Documenting the initial incident and any subsequent instances of wrongdoing is vital for building your case. If possible:

    Write down dates, times, and locations of each instance of harassment, discrimination, or wrongdoing. Be sure to include what happened or was said, as well as who was present.
    Save all communications such as emails, texts, voicemails, recorded statements, photographs, or social media posts. Take screenshots if necessary.
    File a formal complaint at work and get copies of all relevant documentation.
    Gather the names of those in leadership positions, including your supervisor and HR manager.
    Keep all job performance and productivity records. If possible, have HR pull your personnel file or performance reports and review them. Take screenshots or make notes in case your performance is ever disputed – especially once you file a complaint.


    Legal Framework: Title VII and Other Protections Against Racial Discrimination

    Federal laws

    Private employers are prohibited from discriminating based on race by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII also applies to state and local government employers.

    In addition to Title VII, employees and applicants may be able to bring claims under a Reconstruction Era federal civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. Section 1981 prohibits private businesses and individuals from engaging in racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts, including in employment situations. Another federal law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 (Section 1983) bars state and local government employers from violating worker’s constitutional rights, and that includes racial discrimination in employment.

    State laws

    Many state statutes banning racial discrimination in the workplace closely follow the federal anti-discrimination laws. Moreover, multiple states have broader laws than those at the federal level. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) applies to public and private employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies with five or more employees.

    California employees have a broad variety of legal protections both against discrimination and any retaliatory actions taken by employers against employees that report discriminatory acts, file discrimination lawsuits, or aid in investigations regarding these types of practices are also prohibited by state and federal law.

      Seek Legal Representation

      Workers subject to discrimination should seek help from a qualified attorney who knows the laws applicable to their situation. Legal counsel can help you understand your rights, available options, and advise you on gathering the necessary documents and witnesses to support your claim.

      Since 2001, the attorneys from Rothschild & Alwill, APC have dedicated themselves to discriminated workers. Our experienced labor and employment lawyers can advise you on any potential legal claims. You deserve sound judgment, hard work, skilled representation, and to be treated with dignity during every step of the process.

      Email us or call or office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.


      Filing a Discrimination Complaint: Steps to Take for a Strong Case

      If the company/organization does not adequately address or correct your concerns, consider taking formal steps to address the situation. Those steps may include filing a complaint with the EEOC or the applicable state agency. In California, that agency is the California Civil Rights Department. Federal government employees may follow the complaint process outlined here. Information for state and local government employees on filing Section 1983 complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice is here.

      Time Constraints

      Be aware that there are strict time limits for filing claims, which vary depending on what law(s) you choose to bring your claims. Regardless of varying time limits, it is best to file as soon as possible.

      Under Title VII, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days of the day the discrimination took place. This filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. Federal employees have just 45 days from the day the discrimination occurred to contact an EEO Counselor and begin the complaint process.

      As to Section 1981 claims, employees and applicants must file a court complaint within four years of the discriminatory act.

      The timely filing period for Section 1983 claims varies depending on the state in which the alleged violation occurred.

      For claims under California’s FEHA, you must file a complaint within three years of the date you were harmed.

      At any time in the process, the parties may choose mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution to resolve the case. Mediation is an informal and confidential way for employers and employees to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral person who is trained to help people discuss their differences.

      Building a Strong Case

      In addition to the steps discussed above for gathering evidence and documentation, it is important to know what actions you should avoid. Some actions, even if they may seem harmless, can harm your case and your chances of recovery. When possible:

      Do not quit unless you fear for your safety. In most cases, you must file a formal complaint and allow your employer to respond or make changes.
      Do not delete or discard anything related to the incident.
      Do not tell your coworkers or others that you are planning to sue.
      Do not leave the documentation you’ve gathered in your office or on your work computer. Make sure it is copied or backed up and kept somewhere secure.
      Before recording conversations, check your state laws and company policies – some companies prohibit the practice and in some states, it’s illegal to record conversations without consent from all parties.

      When reviewing the events leading up to the incident, be honest about any disciplinary marks in your employee file. These will not invalidate your claim; instead, they can help your attorney see the full picture and help you avoid questions of credibility that might arise if you do not fully disclose all the facts – good or bad.

      Furthermore, after you have filed a formal complaint/charge, discussing your situation with anyone other than legal counsel or within a formal or informal dispute resolution could harm your case. Accordingly, it is important not to discuss these issues in public forums such as social media or any other situation not involving the dispute resolution process.


      Do not navigate the intricacies of the various laws prohibiting racial discrimination alone. If you’re a victim of workplace discrimination, contact the qualified employment attorneys at Rothschild & Alwill, APC today to schedule a free, confidential consultation and see how we can help you. Call us in Bakersfield at 661-369-8510 or in Santa Barbara at 805-845-1190 to arrange your consultation. Se habla Español.

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