An Attorney’s Perspective on Race Discrimination in California Workplaces

Lately, our office has been receiving some calls from potential clients alleging race and color discrimination at their work place. Thus, it may be a good idea to do a brief overview of race discrimination in the work place. What is an employment lawyer looking for? What kind of case is worth pursing? Our main workplace discrimination law page can be found here. This page is a brief overview. The below video is a short and concise synopsis of the law in this area.

Race and Color Discrimination

Under both Federal and California law, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee for his or her race or color. Race is defined as any person who is identifiable due to their ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Interestingly, the law does not see race and color as the same thing. Rather, they are distinct terms as both are listed separately as protected characteristics under federal and California law. Thus, the color of an employee’s skin, and not his or her race, can be foundation for a discrimination claim, even if it is alleged against another employee or supervisor of the same race.

A good example of this is from the case Walker v. Secretary of Treasure, I.R.S. in which a light skinned African American employee was discriminated against by a dark skinned African American supervisor.

A lot of times, people may have the notion that race and color protections only apply to those groups that have historically been viewed as minorities. However, this is not the case. Both Federal and California law prohibit discrimination against white people as well, and any race for that matter, regardless of whether they are the majority of minority race. This is commonly called reverse discrimination. For example, an African American supervisor can discriminate against a white subordinate, just as a white supervisor can discriminate against an African American subordinate.

How does an employee show there was racial discrimination?

An employee can show that he or she was discriminated against due to race or color either by direct evidence or indirect evidence. An example of direct evidence is if an employee is fired for being African American, and during discovery, an e-mail is produced that explains that the employee was fired because he or she was African American. But this kind of evidence is rare and does not happen all that often in todays litigious culture.

Typically, evidence is circumstantial. All this means is that evidence indirectly points out that an employee was discriminated against for his or her race. An example of indirect evidence can take the form of witness testimony. For example, if an employee is fired by his or her supervisor for being African American, yet there is no direct evidence, the former employee can depose several workers who can testify that they heard the supervisor talk about how he dislikes the employee because he or she is black. So just because an employee does not have direct evidence does not mean he or she has no case!

What Kind of Case is Worth Pursing?

There is no good way to answer that. Each case is different. Generally, contingency lawyers like Mr. Robertson are looking for cases in which racial discrimination led to the termination of an individual. That way there is liability (racial discrimination) and damages (the employees lost wages). However, in some instances the client has not been fired, and still has a good case. It all depends and the best way to find out if you have a case is to call for a free consultation with an employment lawyer.

Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace based on race or color is still prevalent in California and across the nation. We still get several calls per week having to do with race discrimination, whether it be by a supervisor or a co-worker. If you feel you are being discriminated against due to your race or the color of your skin, call an employment lawyer for a free consultation.

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