Is “Reverse” Discrimination A Title VII Violation?
Various federal and state laws are designed to prevent discrimination in employment based on a number of protected characteristics, such as race, sex, national origin, and religion. Historically, these laws were adopted to protect members of minority groups from discrimination by the majority. For example, an employer cannot fire or refuse to hire an African-American because of their race or color.
But does the opposite also hold true? Could an African-American employer refuse to hire a Caucasian or white person based on their race or color? The answer is yes. So-called reverse discrimination is just as illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 as more traditionally understood forms of race and color discrimination.
What the Supreme Court Has Said About “Reverse” Discrimination
To be clear, there is no specific “reverse” discrimination law. But in 1976, the United States Supreme Court held that members of a traditional majority group could bring a Title VII claim for racial discrimination. That case, McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., involved three railway workers accused of stealing cans of antifreeze from a customer shipment. Two of the workers were white and the third was African-American. The railroad fired the white employees but not the African-American employee.
The fired white employees sued under Title VII alleging race discrimination. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that Title VII was “wholly inapplicable to racial discrimination against white persons.” The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the Court, said the law as written and traditionally interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forbade “racial discrimination in private employment against whites on the same terms as racial discrimination against nonwhites.”
So McDonald established that a person can be in a “protected class” for civil rights purposes even if they belong to a majority group. Some other examples of illegal “reverse” discrimination in this context could include:
- favoring women over men when it comes to promotions or making other decisions related to employment;
- granting certain religious accommodations to Muslim or Jewish employees but not Christian employees; or
- giving a Black or Hispanic employee an advantage when it comes to making hiring decisions.
One area where reverse discrimination can be technically legal is with respect to age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids employers from employers discriminating against workers who are 40 years or older. The Supreme Court held in 2004 that the ADEA does not stop employers from “favoring an older employee over a younger one.” So a worker under 40 cannot maintain a reverse discrimination claim based on the ADEA.
Contact Jacksonville Employment Discrimination Attorney Carol M. Galloway Today
If you have race discrimination based on your race or any other legally protected trait, you have the right to take legal action against the offending employer. An experienced Jacksonville employment discrimination lawyer can help. Contact the Law Offices of Carol M. Galloway, P.A., today to schedule an initial consultation.