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Race Discrimination Q & A

Q: Am I protected by federal and Florida law against race discrimination?

A: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is federal law, and the Florida Civil Rights Act, which is Florida law, prohibit employers from discriminating against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis of race. All races are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act. The protection against race discrimination applies to all employees and applicants for employment.

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Q: What is race discrimination in employment?

A: Race discrimination in employment occurs when an employment decision is based on an individual’s race. As explained by the U.S. Supreme Court in Goodman v. Lukens, 482 U.S. 656 (1987), unlawful discrimination requires only that employment decisions be based on an individual’s race, not that the decisions be motivated by racial hostility or racial animus.

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Q: When is an employment decision based on race?

A: An employment decision is based on race when an individual’s race was all or part of the motivation for the employment decision. It is not necessary that an individual’s race be the sole or exclusive motivation for the employment decision. Rather, whenever an individual’s race plays a role in an employment decision, the employment decision is unlawful race discrimination. In other words, the individual claiming race discrimination simply has to prove that his or her race made a difference.

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Q: Am I protected against employment discrimination because of my association with an individual of a particular race?

A: It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against an individual because of his or her association with someone of a particular race. For example, an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire or terminating a white individual because he or she is married to an African-American or has a biracial child. When an employer makes an employment decision because of an individual’s association with someone of a particular race, the employer is unlawfully discriminating against the individual on the basis of race.

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Q: Is it unlawful for my employer to discriminate against me based on the belief that I am a member of a particular race?

A: The prohibition against race discrimination includes discrimination against an individual based on the belief or perception that he or she is a member of a particular race. For example, an employer is forbidden from refusing to hire or promote an individual because it believes that he or she is Hispanic or Native American. Similarly, employees are protected against harassment in the workplace based on the belief or perception that they are African-American or Asian.

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Q: In order to have a race discrimination case, does an employer have to tell me that the employment decision was based on my race?

A: It is not necessary that an employer tell you that the employment decision was made because of your race in order for you to have a meritorious race discrimination case. Stated another way, “smoking gun” evidence of discriminatory intent is not required to prove race discrimination. An employer will almost never tell an employee that the employment decision was based on his or her race. As observed by the court in Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074 (3d Cir. 1996), “[i]t has become easier to coat various forms of discrimination with the appearance of propriety, or to ascribe some other less odious intention to what is in reality discriminatory behavior.” “In other words,” the Aman court explained, “while discriminatory conduct persists, violators have learned not to leave the proverbial ‘smoking gun’ behind.”

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Q: Is my employer’s untruthfulness about the reason for the employment decision evidence of race discrimination?

A: One way an individual may prove race discrimination is by showing that the employer’s proffered reason for the challenged employment decision is not credible. In fact, employees often prove race discrimination simply by undermining the credibility of the employer’s proffered justifications. When an employee shows that the employer’s proffered explanation for the challenged employment decision is false, riddled with inconsistencies, or even made up, a jury is permitted to find that discrimination is the real reason for the decision. In other words, as explained by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000), a jury is permitted to infer a discriminatory motive from the falsity of the employer’s explanation.

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Q: What is the most common way employers discriminate against employees on the basis of race?

A: In the majority of race discrimination cases, employees prove an employment decision was based on race by showing that they were treated differently or less favorably from employees of a different race. Differences in treatment tend to show that the employer’s proffered reason for the employment decision was not the real reason and that discrimination was the real reason. For example, the employer discharges an African-American employee for misconduct, but does not discharge employees of a different race who engaged in the same or even worse misconduct. The differences in treatment are evidence of the employer’s discriminatory motive and are often sufficient, standing alone, to prove race discrimination.

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Q: Is evidence regarding differences in treatment limited to the reason given for the challenged employment decision?

A: In proving an employment decision was based on race, employees are not confined to comparing the treatment they received with the treatment accorded other employees with respect to the reason for the challenged employment decision. Instead, the determination of whether an employee’s race played a role in the challenged employment decision is based on the totality of the evidence. As explained by the court in Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469 (3d Cir. 1990), “[a] play cannot be understood on the basis of some of its scenes but only on its entire performance, and similarly, a discrimination analysis must concentrate not on individual incidents, but on the overall scenario.” Thus, evidence showing that you were treated differently or less favorably from employees of a different race with respect to other aspects of your employment can be used to prove a race discrimination case. For example, showing that you were treated differently or less favorably from employees of a different race with respect to discipline, work assignments, performance evaluations, opportunity for advancement, or hours of work is evidence that can be used to prove that your race played a role in the challenged employment decision.

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Q: Besides treating me less favorably than other employees, are there other circumstances that may reflect I was discriminated against on the basis of race?

A: The types of evidence that can be used to prove race discrimination may take a variety of forms. No single type of evidence is necessary to prove race discrimination. The different types of evidence that can be used to prove race discrimination include: (1) the employer set the employee up to fail; (2) the reason proffered by the employer for the challenged employment decision is a lie, a phony reason, or has no basis in fact; (3) the employer did not comply with its own company policy when making the challenged employment decision; (4) the employer never got the employee’s “side of the story” before making the challenged employment decision; (5) the employer gave shifting or inconsistent explanations for the challenged employment decision; (6) the employer never gave the employee a reason for the challenged employment decision; (7) discriminatory racial remarks by a person involved in the challenged employment decision; and (8) the employer discriminated against other employees on the basis of race.

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Q: Can I still have a race discrimination case when my employer treats other employees of my race favorably?

A: discrimination against you on the basis of race. In Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that “Congress never intended to give an employer license to discriminate against some employees on the basis of race . . . merely because [it] favorably treats other members of the employees’ [race].” Thus, as explained by the court in Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2000), “an employer may not escape liability for discriminating against a given employee on the basis of race simply because it can prove that it treated other members of the employee’s [race] favorably.”

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Q: What role does the race of the individual who replaced me play in proving that I was fired because of my race?

A: In a case where an employee claims to have been discharged on the basis of race, the employee can make out a prima facie case of race discrimination by showing that he or she was replaced by an individual of a different race. Independent of its role in establishing a prima facie case of race discrimination, evidence that the employer replaced the terminated employee with an individual of another race bolsters the employee’s discriminatory discharge claim because it is a form of circumstantial evidence that enables a jury to find that the employee’s race played a role in the termination decision.

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Q: Can I still bring a race discrimination case when I was fired and replaced by someone of the same race?

A: An employee claiming to have been fired on the basis of race is not required to show that he or she was replaced by an individual of a different race in order to prove a race discrimination case. To require such a showing would mean that employers could avoid employment discrimination lawsuits merely by replacing the discharged employee with an employee of the same race. Simply because the employer hired another person of the same race to replace you does not mean that its decision to terminate you was free from discrimination. You can still show that you were fired on the basis of race by using any of the many different types of evidence used to prove race discrimination.

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Q: Is an employer allowed to make employment decisions based on the racial preferences of customers?

A: Employers are forbidden from making employment decisions based on the real or perceived racial preferences of customers. This means that an employer is prohibited from making employment decisions based on a desire to cater to the real or perceived racial preferences of its customers. For example, an employer cannot assign African-American salespersons to African-American customers or assign white employees to white customers. Similarly, an employer cannot refuse to hire an African-American job candidate because it believes that its customers are uncomfortable with African-Americans.

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Q: Is my employer allowed to distribute work assignments on the basis of race?

A: Employers are prohibited from using race as a factor in distributing work assignments. This means that race cannot play a role in determining the amount of work employees receive, which employees get to perform the less burdensome or more advantageous work assignments, and which employees must perform the more burdensome or less advantageous work assignments. For example, an employer cannot give a Hispanic employee a substantially greater work load than white employees or consistently make a Hispanic employee do the unpleasant job duties others do not want to do.

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Q: Are employers allowed to segregate employees based on race?

A: Racial segregation in the workplace is unlawful and employers are forbidden from segregating employees by race. This means that employers are prohibited from separating employees in the workplace based on race, assigning jobs or job duties to employees based on race, assigning supervisors to employees based on race, and assigning customers or geographic territories to employees based on race.

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Q: Am I protected against harassment at work because of my race?

A: Harassment on the basis of race is a form of race discrimination. Employees are protected against racial harassment which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the employee’s conditions of employment and create a hostile work environment. Forbidden acts of racial harassment include racial slurs, racial comments, racial insults, racial jokes, racial drawings or graffiti, and physical threats. Employees are protected from racial harassment by co-employees, supervisors, managers, and customers.

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Q: Can I bring separate claims for racial discrimination and racial harassment in the same lawsuit?

A: In the majority of cases, when an employee is subjected to racial harassment in the workplace, the employee is also subjected to some type of adverse employment action on the basis of race. When an employee is subjected to racial harassment and an adverse employment action on the basis of race, the employee can bring a claim for a racial hostile work environment and a claim for racial discrimination based on the adverse employment action. For example, when an employee claims that he or she was racially harassed at work and fired on the basis of race, the employee can assert claims for racial harassment and a racially discriminatory discharge in the same lawsuit.

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Q: Am I protected against retaliation for complaining about race discrimination?

A: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act, employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about race discrimination, whether against themselves or other employees, in the workplace. Employees are also protected against retaliation when they file a charge of discrimination alleging race discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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Q: Do You Have More Questions Or Believe You Have A Case?

A: If you have more questions or believe that you have a race discrimination case, please contact our office to speak with an employment lawyer. You will never have to pay to speak with an employment law attorney here. We can help you take action to protect and vindicate your employee rights. Based in Marion County, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we take employment discrimination and retaliation cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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