2 Things You Should Know About Employment Discrimination Law
#1. Discrimination laws protect white people, too
The federal government recently issued reminders that the laws banning discrimination based on national origin and race protect Americans and whites as well as immigrants and minorities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated North Carolina printing company PBM Graphics and concluded that it had discriminated against non-Hispanics. That illegal conduct cost the company $334,000.
The affected employees were all temporary workers. PBM had a staff of full-time regular workers, but because its workload fluctuated it also used temps. It didn’t need all of them all the time. Its solution was to tell “a ‘core group’ of 50 to 75 temp workers to come to work unless otherwise notified, according to Lawyers.com. The rest of the temps got work only on an as-needed basis, working fewer hours and getting paid less than the core group as a result.
The EEOC found that the core group was ”disproportionately Hispanic, to the exclusion of similarly qualified non-Latino temporary workers.”
PBM didn’t help its case when it told the staffing agency that provided the temps that it “preferred Hispanics,” according to the decision of a federal judge. Note to employers: don’t do that.
PBM isn’t the only company to discriminate against the group that is usually favored. In another example, a Colorado Hampton Inn franchise coughed up $85,000 for discriminating against white Americans. The employer’s motive was its managers’ belief that non-Hispanic workers are lazy.
An EEOC press release about the Hampton Inn case stated that an “employer cannot discharge or refuse to hire an individual based on derogatory stereotypical beliefs about that person’s race or national origin. Employers cannot choose employees based on the color of their skin or their ancestry. This form of blatant discrimination clearly violates federal law” — even when it targets the dominant group. There is no such thing as “reverse discrimination” under the law, just illegal discrimination.
Though these two cases are from 2012, the law has long been clear that discrimination against whites is illegal. The Supreme Court announced this rule in a case called McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. in 1976.
#2. We are protected against colorism
Employment discrimination is also illegal when it occurs within a group based on color or skin-tone. For instance, light-skinned Indians may not discriminate against dark-skinned Indians because discrimination based on color is illegal.
Think this doesn’t happen? Think again. Michigan State University professor Ronald E. Hall opines on CNN that colorism is an “insidious ‘ism’ of the new millennium.” He describes a number of legal cases accusing employers of discriminating against dark-skinned employees in favor of lighter-skinned individuals of the same race. He also cites an example of discrimination going the other way in a case brought by a woman fired by the IRS. Although the court found that the IRS had not discriminated, it did establish that it is illegal for a person of one race to discriminate against someone else of the same race based on skin color.
Even John Stossel called out color discrimination in a 2005 column, though he wrote as though it happens only among blacks. For Stossel to acknowledge that discrimination is a problem, it must really be rife. Dr. Matthew S. Harrison agrees: ”colorism is…present in every racial group where there is skin-tone variation.”
Color discrimination is also illegal when it comes from outside the racial group involved. For instance, a white manager who hires only light-skinned blacks and turns away dark-skinned black applicants is guilty of color discrimination.
Employers and employees should both remember that the basic gist of employment discrimination law is this: make employment-related decisions based only on employment-related criteria. If you think you’re safe discriminating against whites or against some people in a minority group but not others, forget about it.