Race Discrimination

Race discrimination in the workplace continues to be an issue in Minnesota. In 2015, nearly 40% of all charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Minnesota asserted claims of discrimination based on race. This is an astonishing number considering state and federal laws guarding against race discrimination were enacted more that 50 years ago.

What is race discrimination?

Employees are protected from discrimination based on race and color under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). Race discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfavorably because of race, color or characteristics unique to one’s race including skin color/pigmentation, hair texture or facial features.

Harassment based on race or color is also unlawful. Racial harassment can include racial slurs or offensive or derogatory remarks about an employee’s race or color. Harassment is illegal when it is so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision.

According to the MHRA, an employer engages in illegal and discriminatory conduct when, because of race or color, the employer:

  • refuses to hire or to maintain a system of employment which unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment; or
  • discharges an employee; or
  • discriminates against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities or privileges of employment.

What if there are no racial comments?

While race discrimination is seldom obvious or blatant, Minnesota and federal laws also protect against discriminatory treatment motivated by subtle or subconscious biases or stereotyped thinking. Often, attorneys look beyond comments to the totality of circumstances to assess whether race was a factor in the employer’s conduct or employment decision.

Minnesota further protects employees from race discrimination where an employee is treated unfavorably because he or she is married to or associated with persons of a certain race. Specifically, the MHRA provides that it is illegal to discriminate against persons “associated with a person or group of persons who are … of a different race [or] color … .”

A “Neutral” Work Policy May Have a Negative Impact on Employees of Color

Discrimination can also occur where an employer's workplace policy that is not related to the job has a disparate or negative impact on employees of a certain race. For example, a policy requiring a high school diploma and minimum scores on two separate aptitude tests—while applied to all employees without regard to race—prevented a disproportionate number of Africa-American employees from being hired or advancing in the company. Even though it was not intentional discrimination, the policy was illegal because there was no business necessity for the policy, it was not sufficiently related to the job, and it had a disparate impact based on race. See Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971).

Determining whether an employee has been discriminated against because of his or her race or color can sometimes be difficult. A few factors to consider, include, but are not limited to:

  • the presence of race/color based comments (written or oral)
  • how others outside the employee’s race are treated
  • whether there a “pattern or practice” of treating certain races unfavorably
  • the background and history of the employer’s work environment and workforce
  • how employment policies are applied
  • the race of the decision-maker

Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers to Discuss Your Rights
The employment attorneys at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP have years of experience litigating race discrimination employment lawsuits. If you believe you have been discriminated against or are currently being discriminated against in your workplace, we want to here from you. Contact us at 612-252-3570 or click here for free case evaluation.