Unequal treatment based on race has long existed in the United States. Today, federal, state and local laws attempt to eliminate discrimination and provide a cause of action for victims to sue when it does occur. While blatant cases may be easier to prevent or prove in court, many situations are more complex. In workplaces, employers must be diligent and address all forms of race discrimination or risk significant liability. Employees must understand their rights, so they can enforce them effectively. In both cases, experienced legal advice can help ensure that workplaces comply with discrimination laws and are fair to all employees.
Generally, people think of discrimination as intentional unfavorable conduct against an individual. This is known as disparate treatment—a person is treated differently than other employees in similar situations because of the employee’s race. However, discrimination may also occur when a seemingly neutral policy, rule or practice has a disproportionately negative impact on members of a particular race. This is known as disparate impact, which can be a result of systematic discrimination. For example, disparate impact may occur during the hiring process while using basic screening methods such as background and credit checks, past work experience, testing and education requirements.
However, employers have a defense in disparate impact claims if they can show the policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The employer must show that the policy is “reasonably designed and administered to achieve a legitimate business purpose in light of the circumstances,” including its potential harm to the protected group.
The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) protects employees from race discrimination. The law applies to all employers regardless of the size of the business. The New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) handles enforcement.
The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is virtually identical to the state law. It also applies to all employers, but it is enforced by the New York City Human Rights Commission’s (NYCHRC) Law Enforcement Bureau (LEB).
The California statute prohibiting race discrimination is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Cal. Gov’t Code §12940 et seq. Its federal counterpart is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq.). Because the two statutes have the same objectives and serve the same public policy purposes, California courts rely on federal decisions to interpret analogous parts of the FEHA. See University of Southern California v. Superior Court, 222 Cal. App. 3d 1028, 1035-36. A race discrimination lawyer will help you understand the complexity between California employment laws and federal laws.
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