Explained by a Maryland race discrimination lawyer.
Numerous federal, state, and local laws prohibit race discrimination. Yet, discrimination cases are one of the most common claims we file against Maryland employers. If you're facing race discrimination in the workplace, contact us today for a consultation. Our Maryland employment lawyers are here to help.
What is race discrimination at work?
The default rule in Maryland is "at-will" employment. This means that can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all). But if there is a reason for your at-will termination, the reason can't be unlawful. And firing you because of your race is 100% unlawful.
To start, two federal discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on race.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination based on several protected class characteristics, including race. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2.
Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981). Section 1981 prohibits discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts.
Title VII prohibits a broad range of discriminatory employer conduct, including:
Refusing to hire an applicant.
Terminating an employee, including constructive discharge.
Refusing to promote an employee.
Demoting an employee.
Discriminating regarding an employee's compensation or privileges of employment, such as transfer, access to training, or access to equipment.
Classifying or segregating employees in a way that:
deprives the employees of employment opportunities; or
adversely affects their status as employees.
Making statements in job advertisements that indicate a preference or limitation based on race, color, or national origin.
Refusing or failing to prevent or eliminate harassment.
If an employer takes any of the above actions because of your race, they have violated Title VII.
Section 1981 is one of the Reconstruction statutes initially enacted after the Civil War. Section 1981 gives everyone in the US equal rights to make and enforce contracts, just like "white citizens." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Although it does not explicitly reference employment discrimination, courts have interpreted this language to cover the employment relationship.
Finally, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits race discrimination. Approximately five Maryland counties also have their own race discrimination laws. A Maryland employment lawyer can tell you which of these laws is most applicable to your specific case.
How do I prove race discrimination at work?
Maryland employers rarely slip up by providing direct evidence (in other words, a "smoking gun") of race discrimination. Instead, most race discrimination cases are "indirect," or "circumstantial" cases. In these types of cases, you show discrimination by comparing yourself to similar employees. This is generally the same in state and federal court.
Assuming you don't have direct evidence, your employment lawyer will use the McDonnell Douglas framework to prove your case. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). This framework, named after a famous case, utilizes a "burden-shifting" approach. The three steps of the McDonnell Douglas framework are:
You establish a "prima facie" case. In a race discrimination case, that means you need to show:
you are a member of a racial minority;
you were qualified for your job;
even though you were qualified, your employer fired you (or didn't hire you at all); and
your employer sought applicants for you job that had similar qualifications to yours.
Then, the "burden" shifts to your employer, and it must articulate a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for your termination.
Finally, if your employer can articulate a legitimate reason, the burden shifts back to you. You'll need to prove that your employer's stated reason is an excuse (what we call "pretext").
This is an extremely basic overview of the McDonnell Douglas framework. Over the past few decades, thousands of race discrimination in employment cases have further refined the framework. You will need an experienced Maryland employment lawyer to guide your case through the McDonnell Douglas framework. We're here to help—book a consultation today with one of our first-class employment lawyers.
How do I report race discrimination at work?
To start, you'll need to recognize when racial discrimination is occurring. For example, maybe you're not receiving the same opportunities as others. Alternatively, maybe someone is unfairly punishing you, or targeting you with racial jokes or insults.
If you're experiencing race discrimination, you should:
Document the Incident(s). Keep a detailed record of incidences where you’ve faced racial discrimination. This includes whom, what, where, when, and how the incident occurred. Also, note whether there were witnesses and keep any email or written evidence.
Report to Supervisor or HR. The next step is to report the situation to your immediate supervisor. If your boss discriminates against you, go directly to HR. Explain your experiences and feelings honestly and clearly. Keep in mind that it will help to provide evidence or examples to strengthen your case.
Formal Complaint. If reporting to HR does not lead to any action, prepare a formal written complaint. Ensure that your complaint is accurate, dated, and keep a copy for your records.
Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If your internal complaints to your employer don't fix the problem, you can take your case to the EEOC. This federal organization addresses workplace discrimination-related problems.
Seek Legal Counsel. If the discrimination persists or if your employer retaliates against you, it's time to seek legal help. An experienced employment attorney can guide you through your legal options. They can also represent you in a discrimination lawsuit against the employer.
Ultimately, the sooner you start working with an employment lawyer, the stronger your race discrimination case will be. In Maryland, an employment lawyer can also filed your EEOC complaint for you. Contact us today for a consultation to discuss your options.
Can I sue for race discrimination at work?
Absolutely. Courts have a great deal of discretion in meting out justice for race discrimination claims. Under Title VII (and Maryland's Fair Employment Practices Act), a court can award:
Injunctive relief, such as:
specific relief related to the claims in the case, such as selection for a promotion;
prohibiting an employer from future acts of discrimination; and
requiring a manager to undergo equal employment opportunity training.
Reinstatement or front pay.
Compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorneys' fees and costs for the prevailing party.
Keep in mind that, in Maryland there is generally a "cap" on compensatory and punitive damages of $300,000. Additionally, this cap can be as low as $50,000 for the smallest of employers.
At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we are extremely familiar with these caps. We also frequently use county laws to get around those caps. We will also assess how much money your race discrimination case may be worth during your case evaluation.
Doane v. Strategic Housing Solutions LLC
In an unpaid wages case, obtained a trial victory and treble (3x) damages against employer.
Garner v. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Development Corp.
In a wrongful termination case, resolved after obtaining sanctions against employer for destroying evidence.
Boston v. Dinocrates Group, LLC, et al.
In an unpaid wages case, obtained a judgment against Dinocrates Group, LLC for nearly $300,000.
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