This page discusses state and federal workplace reverse discrimination laws. The goal here is to help individuals decide whether or not they should contact an employment lawyer. While this page discusses laws protecting victims of reverse discrimination, it is not a substitute for speaking with a lawyer. We highly recommend you contact an employment lawyer if you feel your termination was due to race or your status as part of a majority group. If you’re looking to learn about another type of discrimination, visit our main discrimination page.
This page covers the following:
- Reverse Discrimination Basics
- Laws Protecting Employees Against Reverse Discrimination
- Background Circumstances
- Notable Cases
- What Can You Recover in a Reverse Discrimination Lawsuit?
- Average Verdicts
- The Cost of an Employment Lawyer
Reverse Discrimination Basics
While so many of today’s heated social debates focus (justifiably) on discrimination against minority groups, it’s easy to overlook employees whose careers suffer because they belong to a “dominant” group. While not as common as standard discrimination, reverse discrimination does occur, and both state and federal laws prohibit its practice.
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Laws Protecting Employees Against Reverse Discrimination
Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) each offer protection from discriminatory employment practices. Similarly worded, these laws prohibit employers from discriminating against any individual based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
In 1971, the United States Supreme Court referred to the concept of reverse discrimination while considering the landmark case Griggs V. Duke Power Co. In their decision, justices argued that Title VII does not guarantee a job to a person based simply on their membership in a minority group. The court further stated that “discriminatory preference for any group, minority or majority,” was precisely forbidden when the civil rights act was passed.
The court considered this issue again in the 1976 case McDonald V. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. when it stated that Title VII prohibited racial discrimination against white petitioners based on the same standards as black petitioners.
But while Title VII and FEHA offer similar protections, most California employment lawyers pursue FEHA cases because the California law doesn’t place a cap on damages. FEHA also applies to employers with five or more employees, whereas Title VII applies where there are fifteen or more employees.
Discrimination cases filed under Title VII require evidence that shifts the burden of proof from the employee (plaintiff) to the employer (defendant). For minorities, simply being a member of a specific ethnic group can trigger this burden shift if accompanying facts demonstrate discrimination might be occurring.
For a non-minority employee who suspects reverse discrimination, some courts require “background circumstances” in order for the case to proceed.
In lay terms, background circumstances involve evidence of something unusual or “fishy” about the case at hand. This evidence can include:
- An employer who expresses intense interest in hiring only minorities for a certain position
- An employer who hires a less qualified minority candidate despite the plaintiff’s many years of service and glowing reviews
- Schemes to fix performance reviews
Once the burden shift is established, the employer (defendant) is required to provide a legitimate reason for a specific hiring decision. If you are not sure whether your particular case meets these standards, we urge you to contact a lawyer now.
-Regents of The University of California v. Bakke: In 1977 the United Supreme Court heard the case of Allan Bakke. A 35-year-old white male, Bakke was denied admission to the medical school at the University of California at Davis despite a high GPA and entrance exam score. While this isn’t an employment case, it demonstrates how the court system evaluates reverse discrimination cases.
For years, the school operated a special admissions program ensuring openings for a specific number of minority students. Bakke argued that the special admission program, which admitted less qualified minority students, excluded him from admission based on his race. The court agreed and he was ordered admitted to the university.
-Edward Norton v. San Bernardino City Unified School District: In 2008 Edward C. Norton, a white building services director for the San Bernardino Unified School District, filed a lawsuit under FEHA.
Employed by the district since 1995, Norton said he initially received outstanding performance reviews and accolades from district officials. This changed in 1999 following a shift in the district’s top leadership. Norton argued that his new boss, who was Hispanic, instituted a policy of preferential treatment to Latino workers regardless of their qualifications.
After verbally expressing frustration with the unfairness of the new policy, Norton said he was targeted by management, who retaliated with harassment and discrimination.
After being placed on administrative leave for reasons that weren’t immediately stated, Norton filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Though his job was eventually reinstated, Norton claimed one of his Hispanic managers alternately assigned him menial tasks and an overwhelming workload. Feeling isolated and ostracized, Norton filed a discrimination suit. A jury found the manager liable for harassment based on Norton’s race. A California appeals court later affirmed this decision.
What Can You Recover in a Discrimination Lawsuit?
First and foremost, if your attorney wins your case, you can recover the income you would have earned had there been no discrimination. For instance, if you made $60,000 per year, but were fired because of your race, you can recover $60,000 for each year you could not find a job.
You may also recover damages for the emotional distress you suffered due to the racial discrimination. Emotional distress may include the following: anxiety, depression, uncertainty, irritability, and mental suffering. The law attempts to put you back in the position you would have been if the discrimination had not taken place.
Attorney’s fees are considered to be one of the most powerful components of a racial discrimination claim. Many racial discrimination cases do not have large lost income and emotional distress damages, so the California legislature has incentivized lawyers to take such cases by adding this provision.
Finally, it is possible that you may recover punitive damages if you can prove that your employer took part in reprehensible actions. Punitive damages are awarded to deter the employer from doing the same thing in the future and, thus, are extremely rare. To win punitive damages, your attorney must show that your employer acted with malice, fraud, or oppression.
Average Verdicts and Settlements in Discrimination Cases
Most discrimination cases, not just reverse discrimination, do not go to trial and instead, settle. Since settlements are subject to confidentiality provisions, there is no data to figure out an average recovery. Our experience, though, shows that the majority of racial discrimination cases settle for less than $50,000.
Every case is different, and one judge’s or jury’s view today may be completely different tomorrow given the same set of facts. For this reason, you should not expect a certain recovery amount with your lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
If you believe you have suffered reverse discrimination at your place of employment, you typically have one year from the date of the alleged discrimination to get a right-to-sue letter from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Usually your lawyer will get this letter for you, but if you have applied or received one, it is imperative to inform your lawyer about it. Your lawyer will have one year from the acquisition date of this letter to file your case in court or arbitration.
Public entities, however, have a different statute of limitations. For former employees of public entities, it may be as short as six months! Since these statute of limitations vary so much, we urge you to contact a lawyer right away. Most employment attorneys give free consultations.
How much Does a Lawyer Cost?
Reverse discrimination lawyers are paid on a contingency fee basis. This ensures that your lawyer gives the proper attention to your case as they only get paid if they win your case. The amount the lawyer will make is a percentage agreed upon prior to the lawyer digging deep into your case.
A primary benefit of a contingency-fee lawyer is you will not pay the lawyer any money of your own. Additionally, the firm will take care of the costs of the case for you, and recover these expenses after the settlement or verdict awards are presented when the case concludes.
If you are wondering if you have a reverse discrimination case against your employer, call a Los Angeles employment lawyer for a free consultation. There are no obligations if you call and this office will not charge to evaluate your case.