50 Years and Counting: How Can I Join in the Fight Against Workplace Discrimination?

After watching the 8 minutes and 46 seconds video that outraged the world, many individuals have joined in the fight for racial justice. These individuals have chosen not to be silent; they have decided to speak up and to speak out against racial inequality. The fight against systematic and institutional racism and discrimination is not solely related to police brutality, but it is embedded in every facet of our society, including in the workplace. Although the Civil Rights Act was passed more than 50 years ago, there is still great progress to be made to end workplace race discrimination.

This article is to help you understand your role and actions you can take to fight against workplace discrimination, whether you are the victim or a witness of race discrimination.

First, it is important to know that both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code protect employees from discrimination in employment on the basis of race. Specifically, these laws make it illegal to discriminate against employees based on their race in hiring, firing, disciplining, distribution of benefits, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Moreover, an employer cannot harass an employee or create a hostile work environment based on a person’s race.

If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of race, you should not suffer in silence. In order to protect yourself, you should report the discrimination to management or human resources, preferably in writing. If you cannot report the discrimination or make a complaint in writing, you should make the report in person, then send a follow up email, restating your complaint of discrimination and confirming your meeting with them.

In addition to making the report, you should try to document as much as possible related to the discrimination you experienced. This could include writing down any racist comments and names of witnesses and what he/she may have witnessed. It does not have to be and should not be a novel—just something short and sweet and stick to the facts. Try to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how whenever possible.

Your report not only protects you, but it puts the company on notice that discrimination and harassment is happening in their workplace and gives them the opportunity to, hopefully, remedy the discrimination, which may include investigating witnesses. Unfortunately, you may not agree with the employer’s response to your discrimination claim, but your complaint gives the employer the opportunity to, at least, investigate the discrimination.

If you are a witness to discrimination and are asked to provide a statement, know that anti-retaliation laws also protect witnesses from retaliation. Put simply, an employer should not retaliate against an employee witness who chooses to participate or cooperate in a discrimination proceeding. The goal of these laws is to encourage individuals to speak up against discrimination so that is easier to enforce these laws.

As a witness to discrimination, your role in this process is as equally important as the victim of discrimination. You should be willing to cooperate with the employer in any investigation and should provide a truthful account, stating what you have witnessed. In some cases, a witness statement can be the evidence needed to resolve an employment dispute.

In my experience, clients have informed me that he/she may have witnesses who would be willing to provide a statement but are concerned with retaliation from the employer. Thankfully, the law protects witnesses as well as employees that originally filed a complaint. It is everyone’s duty to report and speak up about workplace discrimination to enable change.

The fight for racial equality is not over. The need for all workplaces to be free and clear of discrimination and harassment still remains important.  In order to shape a world that we want to live in, we have to advocate for ourselves and for one another. If you have recently been a victim of discrimination or have been retaliated against because you participated in a discrimination proceeding, you do not have to sit in silence. You should consider reporting the discrimination and retaliation to your employer, and, at the very least, you should contact my office to schedule a consultation with a Dallas Employment Lawyer.

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