Discrimination based on race is illegal in the workplace. Employees have strong legal protections that employers must abide by — or be held accountable for law violations. Florida employees, and workers across the country, can file a race discrimination lawsuit with an employment law attorney against their employer if they have a case.
What Is Race Discrimination?
Race discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee, specifically because of the individual’s race, which could occur in any phase of the hiring process or area of employment.
Discrimination can occur across races. Even though most people think about white vs. black cases, discrimination may occur in many ways, from bosses/employers of any race to employees of any race. The common denominator is that the employer took that adverse action because of the employee’s race.
Examples of Race Discrimination
Race discrimination examples can include:
- not hiring an individual due to their race,
- firing them from their job,
- giving them lower pay/salary,
- giving them additional/punitive job assignments other employees in the same/similar position do not have,
- denying them a promotion,
- laying them off,
- not giving them access to training that can further their career that other employees have access to, and
- denying them fringe benefits employees in the same/similar position receive
Do I Have a Case?
Some cases are subtle, while others are more overt. Race discrimination lawsuits can include harassment such as racial slurs, insults, jokes, remarks, physical threats, or violence. Some employers will retaliate against employers if they make a complaint of racial discrimination in the workplace. Others may just fire you outright. Not all adverse actions will amount to discrimination, and each case is unique, but if you believe you were discriminated against at work due to your race, consult with an employee rights attorney.
Racial Discrimination Laws
It is a terrible situation when anyone gets discriminated against. But powerful racial discrimination laws are in place on the federal and state levels to protect employees and hold employers accountable.
State (Florida) and Federal Laws
Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to give federal protections against discrimination. The State of Florida legislature passed the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) in 1992.
Title VII and the FCRA prohibit race discrimination by employers. Together, they protect against multiple types of discrimination, including adverse actions based on sex, race, color, national origin, pregnancy, age, handicap, marital status, and religion.
Who Is Protected – and How?
Generally, the laws would apply to employees who work for employers who have 15 or more employees, including workers in private and public sectors, including federal, state, and local government. There are numerous local ordinances across Florida that protect employees of small employers, so the 15-employee threshold may not preclude you from having a claim.
If an employer does not comply with federal and state legislation protecting workers from discrimination, the employee can file a race discrimination lawsuit. Employers may not only be subject to fines but may also pay settlements and potentially face other penalties or resolutions to the case.
Race Discrimination Settlements: What to Expect
Each race discrimination lawsuit is different. When an employee gets a settlement, the amount will depend on the nature and the severity of the discrimination. The more egregious adverse actions that an employer takes and the more severe the employee suffers, the greater the settlement value.
The types of damages that can be included in a settlement include:
- back pay (lost earnings backdated to when the discrimination occurred),
- front pay (wages you are likely to lose in the future due to the discrimination),
- lost benefits (such as 401K, health benefits, pensions, and stock options),
- punitive damages (intended to punish the employer for their egregious behavior), and
- damages for emotional distress
How to Prove Race Discrimination Against My Employer
When you work with an experienced employee rights attorney, you have a strong advocate that understands how to find the evidence needed to make a convincing case against your employer. The types of evidence utilized in a race discrimination lawsuit can either be direct or indirect.
Direct evidence is not common since most employers try not to be obvious because they know they can be sued for discriminatory acts. An example of direct evidence is a manager sending an email or memo to HR or other decision-makers detailing that they do not want people of a certain race being hired in general or for a specific role at a company.
Although it is not as blatant, indirect evidence can be used to develop a powerful, convincing case of race discrimination. The goal is to show that you were treated differently because of your race, and other employees received more favorable treatment. Indirect evidence could include showing patterns of discrimination, showing that the reasons for an adverse action an employer claims are false, including showing that you had more qualifications and experience than another candidate if you were passed up for a job or promotion.
How to File a Racial Discrimination Lawsuit
When you are preparing to file a lawsuit, obtaining as much documentation as possible is crucial. Documentation can include electronic communications such as emails, text messages, and voicemails. It can also include offensive imagery/jokes/insults sent to you by an employer or co-worker. Human resources/personnel files, performance reviews, and related materials can also be very helpful. Documenting dates and the details of any overt discriminatory actions or interactions and any potential witnesses as soon as possible is also key.
An experienced workplace discrimination attorney works with you through each step, including communications with your employer of the intent to file the lawsuit, developing the case strategy, conducting a thorough investigation in the discovery process, and drafting and filing your complaint.
Common Employer Defenses in Race Discrimination Lawsuits
When facing a race discrimination lawsuit, employers often deploy a range of defenses to dispute the claims. Understanding these defenses can provide valuable insights for employees considering legal action, helping them anticipate and effectively counter the arguments they might encounter. Here are some common defenses used by employers in race discrimination cases, with examples:
1. Legitimate, Non-Discriminatory Reason
Employers might argue that their decisions were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. This defense requires the employer to provide clear evidence supporting their claim that the decision was unrelated to the employee’s race.
Example: An employee alleges they were overlooked for a promotion due to racial discrimination. The employer defends the claim by presenting evidence that the selected candidate had significantly more experience and higher performance ratings, as documented in annual performance evaluations over several years.
2. Business Necessity
For certain employment practices that may appear discriminatory, employers might claim a “business necessity” defense. This means the employer argues that a particular policy or practice that has a disparate impact on a racial group is justified by a significant business need. However, even if an employer can prove business necessity, the defense may not hold if the employee can show that a less discriminatory alternative was available and the employer failed to adopt it.
Example: A company implements a policy requiring all employees to pass a physical fitness test, which disproportionately affects a specific racial group. The employer argues this requirement is a business necessity for safety reasons in a physically demanding job.
3. Performance-Based Actions
Employers often defend against discrimination claims by asserting that any adverse actions taken (such as termination or demotion) were based on the employee’s job performance or conduct, not their race. This defense involves presenting documentation and evidence of performance reviews, disciplinary actions, and other records to justify the employer’s actions as performance-related.
Example: An employee claims their termination was racially motivated. The employer counters this by showing a documented history of performance issues, including written warnings about the employee’s failure to meet specific job standards and records of negative performance reviews.
4. Statute of Limitations
Employers may argue that a claim is not valid because it was not filed within the required time frame. The statute of limitations for filing a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is typically 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act, which can be extended to 300 days in some jurisdictions. If an employee waits too long to file a charge, the employer may use this as a defense to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Example: An employee files a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination that occurred two years prior. The employer argues that the claim is invalid because it was not filed within the EEOC’s required timeframe of 180 to 300 days from the incident, making the lawsuit subject to dismissal based on the statute of limitations.
5. Failure to Mitigate Damages
In cases where an employee seeks compensation for lost wages or other damages, employers might claim that the employee failed to mitigate their damages. This means the employer argues that the employee did not take reasonable steps to reduce their losses, such as by seeking comparable employment after being terminated or demoted.
Example: After being laid off, an employee sues for race discrimination and claims lost wages. The employer shows that the employee did not seek any form of employment for an extended period after the layoff, despite there being plentiful job opportunities in their field
6. Lack of Causation
Employers may contend that there is no causal link between the alleged discriminatory action and the employer’s conduct. This defense is aimed at showing that the adverse action was due to reasons unrelated to the employee’s race, potentially involving external factors or business decisions that affected all employees equally, regardless of race.
Example: A business undergoes a company-wide restructuring that results in layoffs, including the termination of an employee who later files a race discrimination lawsuit. The employer demonstrates that the layoffs were based on company-wide economic challenges and affected employees across various departments and racial groups
Understanding these common defenses enables employees and their legal representatives to better prepare their cases, gather compelling evidence, and develop strategies to counter these arguments effectively. Employees considering legal action should work closely with experienced employment law attorneys who can navigate these complexities and advocate for their rights.
How Can An Employment Lawyer Help My Case?
Race discrimination in the workplace is not only wrong — it is illegal.
Employment lawyers have the legal expertise and experience needed to tackle complex race discrimination lawsuits and develop a powerful case with the necessary evidence to hold employers accountable for violations of the law.
At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., we understand what it takes to prove a case of discrimination and fight hard for our clients to get the best settlements possible. We are proven leaders in employment law and explore every avenue to ensure our clients are adequately compensated for their losses.
Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.