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According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, African Americans with college degrees are more likely than those without any college experience to self-report various instances of racial harassment, especially in the workplace. The numbers show that there is a significant disparity when it comes to those with and without a college degree. Below are the percentages when it comes to:

  • Being the subject of racial slurs or jokes (58% vs. 45%)
  • People acting suspicious of them (71% vs. 59%)
  • People acting like they were not intelligent (67% vs. 52%)

A 2017 poll conducted by NPR corroborated these statistics, further demonstrating that college educated African Americans are more commonly the victims of racial slurs and offensive comments than those without a college degree. Research suggests that because college educated African Americans typically work in environments that are predominantly white, there is statistically speaking more exposure to the possibility of race related prejudice.

Hispanic Americans, on the other hand, are generally less likely than African Americans to say they were the victims of discrimination or unfair treatment due to their race, a gap that extends across all demographics. Interestingly though, there is no difference when it comes to African Americans and Hispanic Americans between the ages of 18 to 29. Approximately 65% of African Americans in the 18-29 age group — and an equal percentage of Hispanic Americans in the same age range– self-reported that they had experienced some form of discrimination or unfair treatment in their lives.

What Counts As Racial Harassment?

Most of us are familiar with sexual harassment cases, yet harassment can be based on other protected characteristics, such as a person’s race. Let’s consider an example. Say that Jose works at a manufacturing plant in Southern California where most of his coworkers are white. Jose is Cuban American and happens to be black. A small but noticeable group of coworkers have gotten into the habit of making jokes and comments about the fact that Jose is the only worker of Hispanic descent.

The comments started off innocently and Jose sincerely believed his coworkers didn’t mean him any harm. Lately, the comments have become more frequent and increasingly hurtful. Some of Jose’s coworkers are saying things like, “Let the Hispanic guy clean it up” whenever there is a mess in the breakroom, or “that’s reverse discrimination” whenever Jose gets more overtime. Has the line been crossed in these examples and does this behavior count as harassment?

In order for a particular behavior to become harassment, the conduct must be unwelcome and it must be sufficiently severe or persistent enough to interfere with the terms and conditions of a victim’s employment. A behavior becomes unwelcome if an individual was offended by it and if he or she neither solicited nor participated in it. 

Some employers argue that the victim was part of the group telling the offensive jokes, and that the conduct wasn’t really unwelcome or offensive because the victim participated in it. If your coworkers’ conduct is offensive, make it clear that their behavior is unacceptable. Establishing a clear boundary makes it more difficult for an employer to say that you actively participated in the harassment.

Not all inappropriate comments or remarks are bad enough to justify a lawsuit. The law wasn’t designed to promote good manners, but to create equal job opportunities that everyone can benefit from. In order to be illegal, the conduct must adversely affect a victim’s working environment.

The following facts and circumstances must be considered:

  • The context in which the conduct took place.
  • Severity of the conduct.
  • Frequency of the conduct.
  • Whether the conduct was humiliating or physically threatening.
  • Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with a victim’s work.

Even if it only occurs once, the more serious a behavior is, the more likely it will count as harassment. For example, hanging a noose in an African American employee’s locker or using the N-word are all severe enough to count as racial harassment, even if the incident only happened once.

Also, remember that jokes or comments don’t need to rise to this level to count as harassment. Individual incidents, which are minor in nature, can still add up to harassment if they continue for a prolonged period of time.

What Can I Do If I’m Being Racially Harassed?

No one should put up with racist remarks or harassment just to do their job. Whether or not the comments or behavior you have been subject to is pervasive and offensive enough to become harassment, you should take steps to address it. It may be difficult, but make it clear to your co-workers that their comments are hurtful and not at all funny. If the joking persists, go to your Human Resources (HR) department and make a formal complaint. Once you make a complaint, your employer is legally required to investigate your complaint and find a solution.

And if this does not stop the harassment, go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or California’s anti-discrimination agency and report the incident. You must file a charge of discrimination in order to legally file a lawsuit against your employer.

What West Coast Employment Lawyers Can Do For You?

If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The racial discrimination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling racial discrimination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.

We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a racial discrimination attorney in California, contact our office at 213-927-3700.

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