Angry boss scolding or firing upset intern in office

How To Prove Racial Discrimination In The Workplace

By Douglas Lipsky

Racial discrimination should be a thing of the past, but it remains a problem in many workplaces in New York. If you believe you have been treated unjustly by an employer because of your racial or ethnic characteristics, having an experienced employment discrimination lawyer is a wise choice. 

Let’s take a look at how to prove racial discrimination in the workplace.

Types of Racial Discrimination in New York Workplaces

In short, racial discrimination occurs when employment decisions (hiring, firing, compensating, promoting) are made based on race. While this sounds simple enough, racism at work can be difficult to detect and prove because employers know how to frame their racist motives as legitimate business decisions. Nonetheless, applicable anti-discrimination laws bar certain forms of discrimination, including:  

Disparate Treatment

Disparate treatment occurs when an employer treats an employee less favorably than a similarly situated employee for discriminatory reasons. For example, a restaurant that hires Black, Latino,  and white employees but limits server positions to white workers may be held liable for disparate impact discrimination. Similarly, denying a promotion to a qualified Asian employee in favor of a less-qualified employee of another race may constitute disparate treatment. 

In addition, disparate treatment occurs when otherwise neutral employment policies are applied differently, such as disciplining a Black employee for being late once while taking no action against a white employee who is habitually tardy. Finally, retaliating against an employee who files an employment discrimination complaint is also considered disparate treatment discrimination. 

Disparate Impact

Disparate impact, which can be more difficult to identify, occurs when an employer applies the same policy to all employees, but it has a disproportionately negative impact on employees based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin. For example, refusing to hire job applicants with an arrest or criminal record may have a disparate impact on Black and Latino individuals because they have higher rates of incarceration. 

Race-Based Harassment Is Also Illegal

Racial harassment is considered an unlawful form of employment discrimination. Examples of racial harassment include:

  • Using racial slurs
  • Making racist jokes
  • Sending offensive communications (emails, texts, chats)
  • Making comments based on stereotypes

While an offhand remark or isolated incident may not rise to the level of discrimination, harassment is illegal if it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment action (e.g. demotion, termination).

The Law Is On Your Side

Racial discrimination is prohibited under federal, state, and local law, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
  • The New York State Human Rights  Law (NYSHRL)
  • The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)

Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Also, before filing a lawsuit, it is necessary to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate the claim and, if they cannot resolve it through the mediation process, issue a “right to sue” letter.

Employees in New York have stronger legal protections under the NYSHRL and NYCHRL because these laws apply to employers with 4 or more employees and do not require filing an administrative claim before pursuing a lawsuit. 

In any event, discrimination is prohibited in all aspects of employment, such as:

  • Refusing to hire someone based on their race
  • Offering inferior compensation or other benefits of employment based on their race
  • Classifying employees in a way that deprives them of opportunities (e.g, training, promotions) based on their race

By working with an experienced New York employment lawyer, you can prove your racial discrimination claim and obtain just compensation. Get in touch with our office today.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.