Race discrimination in the workplace continues to be a source of unrest in the United States. One incident in Berkley, New Jersey highlights the inequality and systemic racism that persists in the workforce.
At a cement company, an African American employee claims that he or she was fired after photographing a noose hanging from a loading dock where he or she worked. In a federal lawsuit against the company’s owner and other defendants, additional African American employees allege that the cement company permitted a culture of racism and discrimination, including the incident with the noose. The plaintiff’s attorneys filed the claim on July 17, 2020, and they are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
Worker Fired for Exposing Workplace Discrimination
According to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Trenton, an employee returned to work after their lunch break to find a noose hanging from the loading dock door. Since it contained 13 knots, the plaintiff’s attorney suggests that this was meant to resemble a hangman’s noose.
This employee later found several other workers laughing about the noose and taking pictures of it. The employee was able to complete the workday but was too distressed to return to work after that. The employee says a supervisor laughed when several African American workers brought the matter to the supervisor.
While the Caucasian employee who created the noose was identified and later suspended from work for one week, the discriminated worker who encountered and reported it to management was penalized more severely and was terminated.
The employee claims the company’s owner and their supervisor considered the photographing and reporting the noose an attempt to create problems in the workplace.
According to the lawsuit against the company, the noose is just one symptom of a larger problem, which is a work culture that allows race discrimination. Among other derogatory terms, the plaintiffs say they were called offensive names on several occasions. When asked for a response to the suit, the company’s president and co-owner declined to comment because the case is still pending.
What is Race Discrimination?
Race discrimination is the unfavorable treatment of an applicant or employee based on their race or because of personal characteristics associated with a certain race. Someone who is treated unfairly because they are married to or associated with someone of a certain race can also be a victim of race discrimination. Race discrimination takes many different forms, such as racial slurs, displays of racially-sensitive symbols, and derogatory remarks
It is a common misconception that the perpetrator of discrimination is always a supervisor and the victim is always a subordinate. Discrimination in the workplace can happen between coworkers, and even clients and customers can discriminate against employees as well.
What are State and Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws?
Several state and federal laws exist to protect individuals in New Jersey and across the nation from different types of harassment and discrimination. Some address discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities. Other laws focus on gender and sexual orientation. The following laws address the issue of race discrimination at work:
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
Any action that negatively impacts recruitment, interviewing, promotions, discharge, and compensation likely meets the criteria for illegal job discrimination. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits business owners from discriminating against applicants or employees in any job-relation actions based on any of the following protected categories:
- National origin
- Marital status or partnership
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Mental or physical disability
This list includes some of the more commonly cited categories impacted by job discrimination, but it is far from complete. An employment law attorney can determine if a client’s situation qualifies as illegal job discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII prohibits job discrimination at private and public employers with 15 or more employees based on the following:
- National origin
What Constitutes Racial Discrimination?
It should be noted that not every offhand comment rises to the level of illegal race discrimination. To be illegal, the behavior must be so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile work environment for the victim and others in the workplace. An adverse job decision, like a demotion or wrongful termination, based on race is also illegal.
What Should I Do if I am Being Harassed?
Workers who are victimized by discrimination because of their race have different options to pursue justice.
The first step to fighting race discrimination is to report the offensive behavior to the employer. Most private and public sector employers have guidelines in place to address workplace harassment.
In the previously mentioned case, the worker who found the noose did the right thing by reporting it to their boss. Unfortunately, the worker was also terminated for doing so; that left the worker with no other choice but to sue the company.
If an employer fails to stop the racist behavior, the employee should consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) immediately. The EEOC enforces Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws.
In most cases, an employee has 180 days from the time they experience racial discrimination to report it to the EEOC, some exceptions may extend this deadline. Workers should file a complaint directly with their employer according to the procedures outlined in their employment contract or handbook.
Some business owners do not have clear protocols for reporting and addressing race discrimination. In that case, workers should report their concerns directly to the EEOC. Employees filing a discrimination complaint usually work with a trusted employment lawyer to ensure their paperwork is accurate and complete.
What Happens After a Complaint is Filed?
Once the EEOC receives a discrimination complaint, they launch an investigation. After assessing the details of the case, they make their findings. If they determine illegal race discrimination occurred, they attempt to settle the charge. If they do not complete their investigation within 180 days or cannot settle the charge, they will issue the employee a Right-to-Sue notice.
When Should I Take Legal Action Against My Employer?
In many cases, once an employer is made aware of race discrimination, they stop the behavior and penalize the perpetrator appropriately. On other job sites, racism is more pervasive and seemingly permitted. Employers that allow illegal harassment and discrimination to continue can be sued in court.
No employee should be subjected to a hostile work environment. Filing a race discrimination claim not only brings justice to the plaintiff who has been victimized, but it also helps to advance the rights of their colleagues and workers throughout the state.
What Should I Do if I Encounter Retaliation?
Many employees fear the consequences if they speak out against discrimination at work, but they are protected under the law. Employers cannot retaliate against any worker for filing an EEOC claim or participating in any investigation regarding race discrimination. If a worker is demoted, transferred, fired, or otherwise adversely impacted after reporting unfair treatment because of their race, they should consult with an attorney about taking legal action.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Promote and Protect Racial Equality in Workplaces
Based on our experience as advocates for equality, the noose incident at the cement company is far from an isolated case of race discrimination. Workers who have experienced harassment because of their race, color, religion, or sex are protected by state and federal anti-discrimination laws. To learn more about your rights and to explore your legal options, contact one of our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.