Racial discrimination is among the most common, and most pernicious, forms of workplace discrimination. New York City, New York State and federal laws prohibit any type of discrimination in which an individual or group is targeted on the basis of their race (or that of their spouse, partner, or family member).Under the terms of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and New York City ordinances, that prohibition is also extended to discrimination based on actual or perceived racial characteristics (including physical features, like skin color, hair texture, and the like), as well as discrimination on the grounds of one's ethnic or religious identity, country of origin, or citizenship status.
These statutes define any discriminatory behavior as illegal to the extent that it involves speech or conduct that has a detrimental impact on the employment prospects, job performance, or professional standing of an employee or group of employees distinguished on the basis of any of these characteristics.
Discriminatory speech may include racial, ethnic, or religious slurs about categories of people (such as African Americans, Sikhs, Arabs, Muslims, Latinos, Jews, Africans or Asians). It can also include the dissemination of offensive or threatening materials, from emails containing racist cartoons to more tangible symbols, such as a rope hung in the shape of a noose or a swastika. Additionally, discriminatory speech may include comments that stereotype a particular group, even if these comments are not consciously intended to demean or disparage but are nevertheless hurtful stereotypes; racially or ethnically discriminatory comments need not be made out of conscious malice to constitute illegal behavior.
From the perspective of the relevant body of employment law, the key question is how the discrimination in question has affected the job status or job conditions of its victims; it is this, and not intent of the perpetrator, that determines whether the employer will be deemed to have violated legal restrictions on workplace discrimination.
Indeed, employment discrimination need not include any verbalized expression of bigoted or prejudiced beliefs to constitute illegal behavior. For this reason, discrimination claims can be proven on circumstantial evidence. Since the main criteria for deciding whether an action, or series of actions, would be covered by laws banning employment discrimination is the impact on the victims, company policies which were not adopted for clearly discriminatory purposes, but which have a consistently unequal impact on members of specific racial, ethnic, or religious groups, are also banned. An example of such a discriminatory practice is the use of an employment test that effectively impairs the chances of racial or ethnic minorities from securing a job offer or a promotion.
Employers who engage in discriminatory practices can be held liable, whether or not there is evidence to suggest that these practices were intended to serve discriminatory ends. Employment practices are illegal in so far as they result in a clear pattern of discrimination in areas like hiring and firing, promotions, pay rates, job assignments, and working conditions. Additionally, employers are considered legally responsible for maintaining a safe and non-discriminatory workplace, and can be forced to pay damages if they permit discriminatory or harassing behavior to escalate to the point that it creates a hostile work environment. Similarly, employers can be found liable for failing to respond to employee complaints about discrimination, or for retaliating against employees who raise these such complaints, even if the complainant is not a member of the victimized group but is rather seeking to vindicate the rights of another party.
If you have been the victim of discrimination, call an employment attorney in your area to determine whether you should pursue a legal complaint against your employer. If you are in New York and have been subjected to discrimination due to your race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or residency status, or that of your partner, you are welcome to contact us at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP to discuss your case.