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Race or Color Discrimination

December 10, 2013

Employees are protected from discrimination based on race or color under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), a state statute. Race discrimination involves treating of an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of that person’s race or because of that person’s physical characteristics that are associated with a particular race. Color discrimination involves treating an individual unfavorably because of that person’s skin color complexion. Race or color discrimination also can involve treating someone less favorably because that person is married to, or associated with, a person of a certain race or color, or because of that person’s involvement in, or support of, an organization that generally is associated with people of a particular race or color. Discrimination may occur even if the victim and the person discriminating against that person are of the same race or color.  Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or color related to any aspect of employment, including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, demotions, layoffs, training and education, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Also, it is unlawful to harass an individual because of that person’s race or color.  Harassment may include, for example, racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color, or a display of racially offensive symbols.  The law, however, typically does not consider simple teasing or offhand comments to be illegal harassment unless it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

Generally, an employer may be liable for the actions of its supervisors and also, it could be liable for the actions of lower-level employees if it knew, or should have known, that the discrimination or harassment was taking place and failed to correct the behavior. Additionally, a policy or practice that applies to all employees or job applicants may be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of individuals of a particular race or color, if it is not job-related or necessary to the operation of business.

Race and color discrimination protections under Title VII cover employers with 15 or more employees and protections under the PHRA cover employers with 4 or more employees. A charge, or complaint, alleging race or color discrimination must be filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) (How to File an EEOC Charge) or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) (How to File a PHRC Charge).  The PHRC requires that a charge be filed within 180 days of the alleged unlawful practice, while the EEOC’s deadline is 300 days.  The EEOC and PHRC investigate charges of discrimination to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination occurred.

Employees or job applicants who prove successfully that an adverse employment action was taken against them based on their race or color may obtain remedies including compensatory and punitive damages.

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee or applicant who has filed a charge of discrimination, complained about discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination proceeding.

Employees and job applicants who work for, or apply for jobs with, employers in the City of Pittsburgh are afforded additional protections against race discrimination by the City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (“CHR”).

Employees and job applicants who work for, or apply for jobs with, employers in Allegheny County are afforded additional protections against race discrimination by the Human Relations Commission Code of Ordinance.

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