Racial Discrimination at Work: What To Do

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

Racial discrimination in the workplace is illegal and deeply unjust, but violations unfortunately continue to occur. This happens when an employee or job applicant is treated unfavorably due to their race. Not only can such behavior lead to reduced morale, it also goes against protections enforced under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of Civil Rights Act 1964. Understanding when racial discrimination is occurring and how to prove it is vital if you find yourself in this situation.

Signs of Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination often occurs subtly in the workplace, but regardless of the manner in which it presents itself, such practices undermine human dignity and they are illegal. Here are some signs that you may be a victim:


If your employer or colleagues stereotype you based on your race, this could potentially constitute racial discrimination.

Derogatory Remarks/Insults

Insensitive remarks about one’s physical characteristics (hair or skin color, for example) that are perceived to be related to your race could be racial discrimination.

Disparate Treatment

Being treated differently due to race can include being excluded from meetings or denied useful resources needed for job performance available freely to other non-minority workers.

Biased Promotion Processes

If you notice that people of a certain racial or ethnic background are constantly and systematically overlooked for raises, promotions, or important projects despite being qualified and experienced, this could be the result of biased protocols favoring one race over another.

Harassment by Management or Co-workers

If fellow employees make offensive comments about your performance on the basis of stereotypes associated with your race, this could certainly be discrimination.

It’s worthwhile to remember that signs of racial discrimination can vary from workplace to workplace.

Disparate Treatment vs. Disparate Impact

Racial discrimination is a critical issue to be aware of in the workplace, and it typically occurs in two forms: disparate treatment and disparate impact.

Disparate Treatment

This refers to situations where an employee or a group of employees are singled out due to their race, ethnicity, or skin color and treated unequally. This could involve tangible employment decisions (like hiring and firing) based on these factors, directly impacting your job situation.

Disparate Impact

While disparate treatment involves obvious, intentional acts of discrimination, disparate impact is often subtler and may not involve direct intent.

Disparate impact operates under a principle where certain employer policies or practices that appear neutral on their face actually have an adverse effect disproportionately impacting employees belonging to a particular racial group. It’s important to note that employers could be liable for disparate impact race discrimination even if the policy at issue had no discriminatory motive behind it.

An example of disparate impact might be an employer implementing a policy that requires all employees to have graduated from a private high school. While this may seem like a neutral or unbiased requirement, data suggests it may disproportionately affect minorities who historically and statistically attend these schools at lower rates.

Proving Racial Discrimination 

Proving racial discrimination in the workplace can be a subtle and complex process, but it’s not impossible. Direct evidence of discriminatory comments or actions can make your case strong, while appropriate circumstantial evidence also provides valuable support.

Direct Evidence

This is perhaps the most powerful type of proof involving discrimination by your employer or anyone influencing employment decisions. Examples of evidence include:

Communications: Be sure to collect all written and digital communications demonstrating race-related biases – they could serve as critical evidence in your discrimination case.

Witness Testimony: A co-worker sharing an eyewitness account of the discriminatory incident(s) lends further strength and credibility to your complaint.

Circumstantial Evidence 

This indirect proof is demonstrated by referencing patterns that show biased treatment towards workers based on their race over time. 

Treatments Discrepancies: If employees or certain racial backgrounds consistently face different and unfair treatment compared to their white counterparts without plausible reasons, it might indicate discrimination.

Workplace Patterns: These include patterns such as promoting only non-minority employees and disproportionate layoffs of staff of certain races. 

Performance Reviews: Beware of systematic negative performance review patterns specifically targeting workers of certain races without justifiable reasons. 

If you find yourself in this situation and need legal help, we’re here for you. Contact our Orange County discrimination lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.