What is Race Discrimination?
Title VII’s prohibition of race discrimination generally encompasses:
Ancestry: Employment discrimination because of racial or ethnic ancestry. Discrimination against a person because of his or her ancestry can violate Title VII’s prohibition against race discrimination. Note that there can be considerable overlap between “race” and “national origin,” but they are not identical. For example, discrimination against a Chinese American might be targeted at her Asian ancestry and not her Chinese national origin. In that case, she would have a claim of discrimination based on race, not national origin.
Physical Characteristics: Employment discrimination based on a person’s physical characteristics associated with race, such as a person’s color, hair, facial features, height and weight.
Race-linked Illness: Discrimination based on race-linked illnesses. For example, sickle cell anemia is a genetically-transmitted disease that affects primarily persons of African descent. Other diseases, while not linked directly to race or ethnicity, may nevertheless have a disproportionate impact. For example, Native Hawaiians have a disproportionately high incidence of diabetes. If the employer applies facially neutral standards to exclude treatment for conditions or risks that disproportionately affect employees on the basis of race or ethnicity, the employer must show that the standards are based on generally accepted medical criteria.
Culture: Employment discrimination because of cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against a person because of cultural characteristics often linked to race or ethnicity, such as a person’s name, cultural dress and grooming practices, or accent or manner of speech. For example, an employment decision based on a person having a so-called “Black accent,” or “sounding White,” violates Title VII if the accent or manner of speech does not materially interfere with the ability to perform job duties.
Perception: Employment discrimination against an individual based on a belief that the individual is a member of a particular racial group, regardless of how the individual identifies himself. Discrimination against an individual based on a perception of his or her race violates Title VII even if that perception is wrong.
Association: Employment discrimination against an individual because of his/her association with someone of a particular race. For example, it is unlawful to discriminate against a White person because he or she is married to an African American or has a multiracial child, or because he or she maintains friendships or otherwise associates with persons of a certain race.
Subgroup or “Race Plus”: Title VII prohibits discrimination against a subgroup of persons in a racial group because they have certain attributes in addition to their race. Thus, for example, it would violate Title VII for an employer to reject Black women with preschool age children, while not rejecting other women with preschool age children.
“Reverse” Race Discrimination: Title VII prohibits race discrimination against all persons, including Caucasians. A plaintiff may prove a claim of discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence. Some courts, however, take the position that if a White person relies on circumstantial evidence to establish a reverse discrimination claim, he or she must meet a heightened standard of proof. The Commission, in contrast, applies the same standard of proof to all race discrimination claims, regardless of the victim’s race or the type of evidence used. In either case, the ultimate burden of persuasion remains always on the plaintiff.