Employees have a legal right to work in an environment free from discrimination and harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers unequal treatment based on racial characteristics to be discrimination.
Managers who make hiring decisions based on race or ethnicity may violate federal labor laws. Passing up experienced employees for a promotion due to their race may also qualify as an unlawful act.
Race may play a role in co-workers’ harassment
Employees may find themselves working under duress because of their race or ethnicity. As noted by the EEOC, racial harassment may include co-workers making offhand remarks, comments or “jokes” that cause discomfort. Harassment may reflect an illegal act and qualify as a type of employment discrimination.
Employees may first report their co-workers’ offensive behavior to a supervisor. By not correcting the situation and allowing the misconduct to continue, however, a supervisor creates a hostile work environment. The lack of a remedial response from management may lead to legal action.
Legal action may result in an award for damages
In a case reported by National Public Radio, a jury awarded financial relief when the court found that an employee’s complaints of harassment went unanswered. A California resident who worked as an elevator operator sued his former employer for allowing coworkers to repeatedly call him racially derogatory names.
Witnesses testified that they intended to use the words in a “friendly” way. The court, however, disagreed. The award, one of the largest in a California harassment case, included more than $100 million in punitive damages.
A court may find that unequal treatment or harassment based on race, ethnicity or national origin violated federal labor laws. A lawsuit filed against an employer may end the unlawful actions and provide financial relief. The court may also award punitive damages to discourage other employers from allowing workplace harassment to continue.