Race and Color Discrimination

Despite the fact that Congress has professed a national policy against discrimination based on race or color, the problem still persists, both in society and in workplaces around the country. As a result, there remains much to do to protect ordinary citizens from discrimination based upon race or color. Although it often garners little attention, the fact is that, since as early as 1866, the laws of the United States have attempted to address the problem of race discrimination. In 1866, a civil rights act was passed to protect black citizens from being subject to discrimination in the formation of contracts. In other words, it was illegal to refuse to enter a contract with someone on account of their race. Specifically, the law stated that “all persons . . . shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Today, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 extends to protect persons of all races from discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts as well as in the terms and conditions of employment. A lawsuit under this statute will allow for remedies in the form of monetary damages. It is also possible to get injunctive relief in the form of reinstatement and attorneys’ fees. In the early 1960’s, however, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was not seen as expansive enough to cover all manner of workplace discrimination on account of race and it certainly did not address the many other forms of discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination on account of gender, national origin, color or religion. For that, a separate law was required.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One provision of that law, Title VII, prohibits discrimination in employment based on a person’s race or color. This includes, among others, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos, Arabs, Native Americans, Pacific Islander and even persons of more than one race. It will also cover discrimination based on racial or ethnic ancestry, physical characteristics or culture associated with race and even association with persons of a particular race. In addition, the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, or national origin. Among other things, the law protects individuals from discrimination in recruitment, hiring and promotion, in the terms and conditions of employment and in discharge. It also protects employees from race or color based harassment and prohibits retaliation against individuals who complain of such discrimination. Unfortunately, unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1866, an employer must have 15 or more employees on the payroll for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year in order to be covered.

Remedies

If employers are covered, then they can be liable for many forms of damages if it is determined that they have discriminated based on race or color (or any of the other protected classifications). Damages can include back pay or the amount of pay loss due to the discrimination, front pay or the amount of pay expected to be lost in the future, and compensatory and punitive damages. Employees can also obtain reinstatement to jobs or positions lost, an award of a job or position denied, as well as attorneys’ fees incurred in bringing the claims.

Agency Involvement

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 set up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as the federal agency in charge of investigating claims of discrimination under Title VII and employees are required to file charges of discrimination with the EEOC within a limited amount of time after learning of discrimination; in some cases, within as little as 180 days.

Although this is just an overview of race and color discrimination, if you have concerns over such discrimination or have additional questions, we can help guide you and, if necessary, represent you before the EEOC or in Court. To further discuss your situation, you can call us toll free at 1-855-774-3675, send us an e-mail, or fill out a consultation request form and we will contact as soon as possible.