Go back to 1964 and you’ll find the foundations of discrimination laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 built on the Civil Rights Act of 1866. While the first Civil Rights Act allowed all U.S. citizens to be able to purchase, lease, and sell real estate and personal property, the second part added protections to ensure that race, color, religion, or nationality could not be used as grounds for discrimination. This protected children from being denied access to schools. It ensured businesses and public buildings had to allow everyone inside.
Title VII is specific to employment laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 added employment protections to prevent unfair treatment based on race, gender, nationality, color, sex, or religion. In 1978, pregnancy was added to the list. Finally, 2011 and 2012 added protections for the LGBTQ community.
Even with the additions to the Civil Rights Act, discrimination continues to happen. On May 25, 2020, 46-year-old George Floyd was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 on a convenience store purchase. Video footage showed the man screaming that he couldn’t breathe for more than five minutes as an officer knelt on his neck. Mr. Floyd died, and officers were charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and aiding and abetting.
This case sparked a firestorm of outcry against racial discrimination. People are speaking up. They’re not sitting back and ignoring the things they experience or see. It’s brought awareness to a serious problem when it comes to racial discrimination. A lawsuit against a California grocer is one of the many cases of racial discrimination in the workplace. In the complaint, workers with Mexican and El Salvadorian backgrounds were harassed during the 2016 presidential campaign. When they reported the harassment, they faced retaliation. Even YouTube has been sued for racial discrimination after Mr. Floyd’s death.
What happens when racial discrimination takes place at work? What if you see a co-worker of another nationality being harassed? What if you’re continually overlooked for a promotion and are certain it’s because of the color of your skin? What are you supposed to do?
Employment Discrimination Laws in California
In addition to the discrimination laws outlined in the Civil Rights Act, California has state laws that ban workplace discrimination based on:
- Gender/Gender Expression/Gender Identity/Sex/Sexual Orientation
- Genetics/Medical Conditions/Disability
- Marital Status
If you’ve been the victim of discrimination, you could be awarded payment for the weeks or months that you were out of work. Your harasser/s may be terminated or transferred to another office. If you prefer to be transferred to another department, that can be an option. You could be awarded punitive damages, damages for your emotional pain and suffering, etc. It comes down to your situation and how you were discriminated against.
How Do You File a Complaint?
How do you prove racial discrimination in the workplace? It can be hard. You have just three years to file a racial discrimination case against an employer. Don’t put it off. Take action as quickly as you can.
You need to have as much evidence as possible, and it’s unlikely your boss will email you and say: “You didn’t get the promotion because of your skin color.” You’ll need to be able to provide enough facts to back up your claim. If you don’t have that proof, don’t give up hope. You might have co-workers who support you and have seen some of the discriminatory behavior. They may have seen things you are unaware of. During an investigation, others may back up your claims and provide the proof you need.
Some of the documents you may be asked to provide, if possible, are W-2s or 1099s, police reports, termination letters or job performance reports, screenshots of instant messages, emails, or memos. If you’re demoted or moved to another department or office, provide a copy of a transfer notice. You may have kept a journal detailing the treatment and harassment you faced. Bring that journal with you. It’s going to provide plenty of specific situations an attorney or investigator can use.
Keep track of details. Emails will help. You keep getting jokes emailed to you and they’re specific to your race and offend you. You bring it up to your supervisor and expect the derogatory racial jokes to stop. Instead, your co-workers start harassing you. Keep a log of the retaliation. Get dates and names. If any of the retaliation comes in the way of emails, notes, or damage to your personal belongings, keep records and photos. If you’re fired after filing a complaint, keep track of all correspondence related to your termination.
If you suspect you’re being discriminated against due to your skin color, find your employment manual. You would have been provided with a copy when you were hired. Read the instructions given on filing a complaint about discrimination. You may file a complaint with your HR department or with the legal department. If you’re not able to find who to talk to, reach out to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. A DFEH specialist can help you file the intake form. They will investigate your claim or you can hire a lawyer and then file a Right-to-Sue notice.
You’ll be asked for facts and any documentation that backs up your claim. If you have any witnesses, you can provide their information. If you start your complaint with the DFEH, they will investigate and go over the company’s answer with you. They also offer free resolution services if there is a dispute. You do have to file the complaint online through their system and that may be confusing. There’s a better way.
Shegerian Conniff is an expert in employment law. If you’re facing racial discrimination in the workplace, the last thing you should do is silently take it. Call us. All consultations are confidential and don’t cost you a penny unless we agree to take your case. At that point, we’ll discuss how we get paid. We’re available 24/7 at 310-322-7500 and are ready to fight for you.