Confronting Racial Bias At Work: What It Looks Like And How To Handle It

Photo by Dan Dalton
Race Forward Research Insititute Director Dom Apollon reveals their eye-opening findings about the future of racial bias in the workplace under a Trump presidency.

Being subjected to discriminatory treatment at work is something no employee should ever have to go through. Unfortunately, people of color are targeted both directly and indirectly with this type of treatment everyday. With Donald Trump less than two months away from officially taking his seat in White House following a campaign that was largely built on pushing an often racially biased agenda, the level of concern many Americans are feeling as they continue to navigate their workplace is very real.

The Race Forward research institute recently unveiled their solution-based findings about confronting racial bias at work during their 2016 Facing Race national conference and much was revealed about what constitutes racially-charged bias on the job. 

In line with their findings, it turns out many of the lesser-known forms of racial bias and discrimination at work that are prohibited under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are more common than not.

"Title VII prohibits public and private employers (with 15 or more employees) from discriminating in virtually all aspects of the workplace," Race Forward Research Director Dom Apollon tells ESSENCE. "From recruitment, to hiring, to promotions, to firing and everything in between."  

If you think you're being subjected to unfair treatment at work because of your race, there's a good chance you're right -- even in cases where the racially biased actions of a co-worker or supervisor aren't so obvious.

"Some of the less obvious workplace discrimination that employees should know are in violation of Title VII include: criminal background or credit checks that aren't specifically relevant to a job, disparate enforcement of workplace rules and segregated work assignments (whether intentionally created or not)," Apollon said.

The EEOC also provides for protection of intersectional claims made by workers -- which could potentially see a significant increase in the near future, should Trump's proposed economic policies be put into place.

"According to the EEOC, workers with intersectional claims -- e.g., Black women claiming their combined race and gender was the target of discrimination as opposed to one or the other independently -- are also protected by Title VII," Apollon continued. "But some federal judges have been more friendly than others to such claims."

Apollon also shared details about troubling statistics on the success rate of workplace discrimination claims filed by Black female employees. 

"Academic research has suggested that women of color have a lower success rate with their claims them white women or men of color. And chances are, if Trump successfully appoints conservative judges to the federal courts, the door will close further to women of color and others making such intersectional claims."

The million dollar question should you find yourself at the center of racial bias in the workplace, of course, is how to properly deal with it in a way that will yield an effective outcome. While Apollon does suggest taking the most common route, he also encourages those filing claims to remember that attempted retaliation by an employer as a result of a discrimination claim is also prohibited under Title VII.

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"With the caveat that I am not a lawyer, and the recommendation that workers should seek legal advice before deciding what course of action to take," he says. "In many instances, if the workplace has formal procedures to internally file discrimination complaints, employees should try that route first. Unfortunately, it's not entirely uncommon for employers to engage in some sort of retaliation against employees who do so (harassing, demoting, even firing). Thankfully, Title VII also prohibits such retaliation, and 4 out of 10 claims filed by workers with the EEOC contain such claims. And some employment discrimination lawyers suggest that retaliation claims can be easier to win."

Cautioning that the courts won't go easy on requiring employees to prove that their employer had no legit basis for taking the allegedly discriminatory action, Apollon adds that following the proper steps to ensure your case is air tight is crucial.

"Before you can bring a lawsuit against your employer for job discrimination, Title VII requires you to file a formal charge with the EEOC," he says. "Depending on their resources and priorities, the agency will investigate your claim and assess your claim. More often than not, the under-resourced agency concludes there is "no reasonable cause" to believe discrimination occurred and they issue a "right to sue" authorization, but employment discrimination lawyers say that "no reasonable cause" designation has little, if any, relation to the actual merit of a claim. So workers shouldn't necessarily get discouraged if they receive one of those. It's also important to remember that Title VII imposes a 180 calendar day deadline to file your charges."

For more information on confronting racial bias in the workplace, you can read the full Race Forward report here.

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Filed under: Culture, Racism