It’s 2020. Why is Workplace Discrimination Against Black People Still a Problem?

Race Discrimination
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black man looking disappointed at table across from white colleagues
 

Discrimination and inequality in the workplace are some of the more damaging forms of injustice. They directly impact an individual’s professional opportunities which can also affect that individual’s access to essential resources and overall quality of life.

One of the hardest hit by discrimination is the black community. Institutionalized and informal racism has hindered black Americans’ employment and leadership aspirations. It has also made many black professionals feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in their work environment regardless of position.

Lack of Diversity in Business Leadership

Blacks and other minority groups are disadvantaged when it comes to opportunities for advancement and leadership. This is sometimes the result of intentional racial discrimination in hiring and promotional practices. But it can also be a consequence of unintentional practices and behaviors that nonetheless disadvantage minority professionals.

While businesses have officially encouraged diversity in the workplace for decades now, there is still a shockingly low amount of diversity in business leadership, especially in the black community. For example, of the Fortune 500 companies, only four have black CEOs, with only 17 Fortune 500 CEOs being black in the past 20 years.

Of this year’s Fortune 100 companies, less than 5% have black C-Suite level executives. This is a persistent issue because companies tend to not do enough to develop and promote black talent to these executive positions.

Much of this disparity is the result of the highly qualified black candidates simply not having the social connections that their white counterparts have. These networks are crucial for moving up the corporate ladder, especially at the executive level.

Impacts of Institutional Racism in the Workforce

The problem does not exist solely in the lack of diversity in leadership. Despite an employment climate that over the past few decades has emphasized greater diversity, the overall work environment can often be unwelcoming and even openly hostile to black professionals.

According to a study by The Center for Talent Innovation, when asked if they believe that black professionals need to work harder in their profession because of their race, almost 67% of black professionals agreed. Compare this to white employees who were asked the same question, where only approximately 15% of them agreed.

The study also indicated that black professionals are more likely than professionals of any other ethnicity to experience racial discrimination in the workplace. In addition to the use of aggressive and intentionally racially insensitive language, there are the actions and statements that may not be intentionally racially charged, such as touching a black college’s hair without permission or stating that they are “articulate.”

The pervasiveness of explicit malignant racism in the workforce may come as a surprise to some whites who have rarely or never witnessed the most egregious examples. As a result, it can be easy to continue not to see the racism or to believe that it’s merely a series of easily resolved isolated incidents.

However, employment lawyers throughout the country, as well as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), regularly see cases of repeated systemic abuses on the basis of race. Many of these incidents involve an employee reporting this discriminatory behavior to the employer who then either ignores or actively perpetuates the abuse. These abuses range from using disparaging terms, racial slurs and even direct references to lynching.

What the Law Says About This Discrimination

It’s fair to say that employment discrimination based on race is wrong, on both a moral and ethical level. But when action needs to be taken, it’s what the law says that really matters.

Most employers are subject to at least two levels of laws concerning discrimination, sometimes three. At the highest level, there is federal law, and the most pertinent federal law when it comes to combating racial discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

Title VII bans employers of 15 or more employee from discriminating against employees based on the following characteristics:

• Race
• National origin
• Sex
• Color
• Religion

Prohibited discrimination can take many forms, including:

• Refusal to hire
• Firing
• Negative performance evaluations
• Pay cuts
• Demotions
• Promotion denial
• Employee discipline
• Benefits
• And any other term or condition of employment

Title VII recognizes discrimination that may be explicit or be racially neutral, but have a disproportionate impact on members of a certain race. For example, an employer has a rule that it only hires graduates from a particular school. However, that school has almost no black students.

While this hiring rule may be racially neutral, it may have a disparate impact on black job applicants. If there is no business necessity for this hiring practice, it could be an illegal form of racial discrimination.

The next law that an employer could be subject to will be state law. Depending on the state, employment protections against racial discrimination will provide more protection than what’s available under federal law. For instance, the Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits race discrimination among employers with more than five, but less than 15 employees. This means that the prohibition on racial discrimination applies to more employers under Virginia law than federal law.

And for some employers, there may be another level of anti-discrimination laws they must abide by. Employers in Alexandria, Virginia have the Alexandria Human Rights Code. This law goes even further than the Virginia Human Rights Act and bans employment discrimination based on race for employers with four or more employees.

Unfortunately, many employees can only rely on Title VII when they face racial discrimination at work. And regardless of what law applies to their case, it’s often difficult to have “smoking gun” level evidence of illegal discrimination. That’s because much of the discrimination manifests itself in subtle and insidious ways. But that doesn’t mean a victim of race discrimination has to accept this unlawful treatment.

Consult With an Experienced Race Discrimination Lawyer in Virginia

If you think you are the victim of racial discrimination, don’t hesitate to speak with our Virginia employment law attorneys. Making the most of a professional career is challenging enough without having to deal with co-workers or supervisors subjecting you to racial discrimination. Even if you don’t think you have enough evidence to prove discrimination, you still have legal options. Talking to a Virginia race discrimination lawyer can help you learn what these options are and what you should do next.