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Race Discrimination

It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against a current employee or potential new hire on the basis of race or national origin.

The federal Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) provide numerous legal protections against discrimination in the workplace because of a person’s race or national origin.

Federal & State Laws Protect Against Employment Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their race or national origin. This means that an employer covered by this federal statute cannot discriminate against someone in hiring, promotions, wages, termination, or layoffs, and may not treat an employee more or less favorably because of race or origin.

Although race or race or national origin cannot ever be a “bona fide occupational qualification” that would allow an exemption to the anti-discrimination rules, there is a very limited exception for situations in which race is an integral part of the story or purpose of an artistic work, such as a movie or play.

Retaliating against an existing or potential employee for complaining about racial discrimination is illegal, as is segregating an employee into a job based on his or her race or origin. (For example, it would be illegal to assign an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or perceived racial preferences of the employer’s customers.)

It is also unlawful for an employer to take an “adverse employment action” against a worker on the basis of race or national origin or in retaliation for a complaint about discrimination. According to the EEOC, “an action is an adverse employment action if a reasonable employee would have found the action materially adverse, which means it might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.”

Examples of “adverse employment actions” include

  • Termination, refusal to hire, or denial of promotion,
  • Threats, unjustified negative evaluations, unjustified negative references, or increased surveillance, and
  • Any other action that is likely to deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights (like an assault or bringing unfounded civil or criminal charges).

The NJLAD provides essentially the same protections as Title VII, extending them to virtually every employee working in New Jersey.

New Jersey Law Protects Natural Hairstyles

In addition to overt acts of discrimination or racism in the workplace, certain systemic issues and evidence of implicit bias in the workplace may reflect a culture of discrimination. For example, some workplaces have dress code provisions that restrict the types of hairstyles employees may wear in the workplace, often excluding natural hairstyles typically associated with a racial group (like dreadlocks or afros). Rules like these have a disproportionately negative effect on workers of color even though they appear, at first glance, to apply to all employees.

To combat this kind of subtle workplace discrimination, in late 2019, New Jersey passed the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN)” Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles” that may not comply with an employer’s arbitrary “dress code” requirements. The CROWN Act, like the NJLAD, has some exceptions, including allowing an employer to enforce regulations based on safety.

Protection from Workplace Harassment Based on Race or National Origin

It is unlawful under both the Civil Rights Act and NJLAD for anyone in the workplace, including supervisors, coworkers, and clients, to harass an employee because of his or her race or national origin. Illegal “harassment” is conduct that creates a hostile or offensive work environment due to its severity or ongoing nature or that results in an adverse employment action. If the harassment is intentional, extreme, and outrageous, an employee may also be able to file a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress under New Jersey state law.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of Workplace Discrimination

Victims of discrimination based on their race or national origin in New Jersey may file claims with two primary agencies. For violations of federal laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles race and national origin discrimination claims, while the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights (DCR) handles claims related to violations of state laws. Not all employers are covered by both state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and the remedies available under each law are different.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of discrimination based on your race or national origin, you should talk to an attorney experienced in both federal and New Jersey anti-discrimination laws. An experienced employment and anti-discrimination attorney can help you determine whether you may have a claim, and if so, help you decide which venue would be best for you to pursue an action.

To schedule an appointment at the Basking Ridge, Oradell, or Newark, New Jersey, law offices of Mark | Lavigne, LLC, contact us today. Our experienced team can help you determine whether you may have a claim for race or national origin discrimination or other employment law violations.

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