Inequality in the workplace exists in several forms. Racial inequality is one of them. Skin color cannot be used to decide who does and doesn’t get a raise, promotion, or employee perks. Is skin color the only way racial discrimination takes place?
No, it’s not. California was the first state in the nation to include matters of hair when it comes to racial discrimination. Governor Newsom signed the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act into law in 2019. It addresses school and workplace discrimination based on a person’s natural hair texture or styles like dreadlocks, braids, or afros. In California, it’s illegal for an employer to require someone to straighten their hair in order to get a job or promotion.
As the act says, “professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms… must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed a professional.” Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t address hairstyle in the definition of racial discrimination, the CROWN Act added it.
Racial inequality is a hot topic following the death of George Floyd. After he was killed when an officer knelt on his neck despite his cries he couldn’t breathe, the Black Lives Matter movement that started back in 2012 gained speed. It’s brought attention to the unfair treatment of people of race when compared to white people. Many companies spoke up in favor of the movement, but the companies’ work environments prove otherwise as workers speak out about inequality in the workplace.
The Definition of Racial Inequality
Racial inequality occurs when someone of another race is treated unfairly based on his or her race or skin color. It’s an ongoing problem in the U.S. with African Americans, Hispanics, etc. not having the same treatment as white people. A Pew poll found that 6 out of 10 people feel additional changes must be made if racial equality will happen. More than 40% of African American people are skeptical that racial equality will ever happen.
The workplace is one of the areas where racial inequality is noticeable. African American and Hispanic workers often find they are less likely to get a promotion, new job, or raise. People of color who are given less adequate training than their peers or who aren’t offered the same benefits package may also have a valid discrimination complaint.
It’s illegal to discriminate based on race, and that stretches to discriminating based on skin color, natural hair, or facial features. Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, racial discrimination covers people who are married/partnered or friends with someone of another race. It doesn’t matter the color of the supervisor or HR person who is responsible. If a Hispanic boss denied a Hispanic worker a job based on race, it’s still discrimination.
Another issue are broad practices that apply to everyone but discriminate against people of a certain race. For example, if all men were told they must be clean-shaven, it can be discrimination as a large majority of African American men suffer from a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae where shaving causes hair to curl back and grow into the skin causing inflamed lesions. Wearing a beard is the easiest way to avoid this skin condition. Forcing African American men to shave and suffer from this condition would be discriminatory even though it’s not meant to be.
Examples of Racial Inequality in the Workplace
A Georgetown University study took a look at Latino and African American graduates after getting their degrees. Despite holding that degree, most of them did not get equal pay or comparable jobs to their peers. In this study, it was found that median incomes for men and women holding a four-year degree were around $75,000. For Latino and African American workers with a four-year degree, the median income dropped to $65,000. The study covered 15 years, so it wasn’t just a temporary occurrence.
Netflix tried to get a racial inequality lawsuit against the company dismissed more than once, but judges denied the request. Mo’Nique, an African American comedian, sued the company for racial and gender discrimination after she was offered $500,000 to star in a comedy special, which was minimal compared to what others were being paid. The company allegedly blacklisted her. Wanda Sykes came forward later and said she’d been offered even less.
McDonald’s is being sued by more than four dozen African American franchise owners who claim their new franchise was placed in a troubled area where sales were highly likely to be less than in a prime location and drove many into bankruptcy. Plus, the location drove up insurance costs and the number of African-American owned McDonald’s continues to decline each year. CEO Chris Kempczinski admitted that there was still a lot of work to be done to improve diversity and racial equality but denied there was any racial discrimination occurring.
Facebook came under fire in June when one of their employees recruited two other African Americans for positions. Neither of the workers was eventually hired. It came out that less than 2,000 of the 48,000 Facebook workers are African American. Around 3,000 are Latino. It’s not the first time the company has been accused of racial discrimination. The Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook in 2019 for discrimination based on race, religion, and disability.
The banking industry is often called out for gender inequality. When the company laid off their diversity chief after 26 years on the job, she filed a racial discrimination lawsuit. She claimed that over the years, her department’s budget kept getting chopped. Ideas she had to improve business were shot down and others allegedly took credit when she landed a large client. When she started pushing harder for racial equality in the workplace, she was told her position was being eliminated. That case is ongoing.
What do you do if you suspect you’re being unfairly treated due to your race? The leader of the American Negotiation Institute has a motto that is important when it comes to racial inequality. “The best things in life are on the other side of a difficult conversation.” If you’ve talked to your HR department or supervisor and do not think you’re being treated as an equal. The time for conversation is passed. You need to get expert help.
Read your employee handbook to see how you file a complaint. Write out or type out a list of situations or examples of discrimination. Try to have proof to back them up. Emails, witnesses, and written notices/warnings are all ways to back up your claim.
You might have to go to your HR department or your supervisor. Take the appropriate steps and wait for a response. If the response doesn’t seem right or you’re the victim of retaliation, it’s time to see legal advice. You can file with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or talk to an attorney who specializes in employment law.
If it happens to you, it’s probably happening to others in your situation. You may not be alone. Speak up and stand up for your rights. The attorneys at Shegerian Conniff offer free consultations. Find out if you have a valid complaint without having to pay any fee. Fill out the online form to get help.