Race discrimination and harassment are prohibited both by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §1981, which is commonly known as Section 1981. The Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race.
Race discrimination involves treating an employee or applicant less favorably, because of that person’s race or color. Importantly, the laws protect employees and applicants from race discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Evidence of a racially discriminatory motive may include actions or statements racial animosity as well as conscious or unconscious stereotypes about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of certain racial groups.
It is also unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s race or color. Racial harassment is unwelcome conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Examples of harassing conduct include: offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.
While an isolated incident may not normally create a hostile work environment, it may in cases where the discrimination or harassment is particularly severe (e.g., a racially-motivated assault or the use of a racial slur such as the N-word). On the other hand, the law does not prohibit simple teasing or isolated incidents that are less serious; harassment is only illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or suspended).
Title VII applies to employers (including employment agencies and unions) with 15 or more employees, and to federal, state, and local governments. Employees who are victims of race discrimination under Title VII may be entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay, reinstatement or front pay, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Importantly, Title VII places caps on the sum of compensatory and punitive damages for which an employer may be liable. The caps are based on the size of the employer’s workforce:
15 - 100 employees
101 - 200 employees
201 - 500 employees
501 or more employees
Beyond Title VII, Section 1981 covers small business employers with less than 15 employees and it does not cap damages. In addition, the state anti-discrimination law, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), also does not cap the amount of recoverable damages under the Act. However, with regard to claims of race discrimination, the IHRA only covers employers with 15 or more employees in the state of Illinois, public contractors, and state governmental units.
If you believe that you have been the victim of race discrimination at work, you must timely file a Charge of Discrimination before proceeding with a civil lawsuit under Title VII or the Illinois Human Rights Act. Notably, Employees who wish to pursue a race discrimination claim under Section 1981 are not required to file a charge before filing a case. We encourage you to contact our Chicago workplace discrimination attorneys to set up a free consultation in time to learn about your rights and options under the law.
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