If you suspect discrimination at
work, you might find yourself in one of two situations. In the first, the
discrimination is obvious. If, for example, your supervisor has said that he or
she will never promote members of a certain race, has used racial slurs, or
otherwise has demonstrated bias against a particular racial or ethnic group,
you don't need to wonder whether race is playing a role in the supervisor's
In the second scenario, you suspect
discrimination, but the evidence isn't as obvious. Perhaps your company has
never promoted a member of a certain race. Or maybe employees who are people of
color are routinely disciplined for offenses that white employees seem to get
away with. In these cases there could be an explanation that does not involve
race or national origin. But it's difficult for an employee to find out the
If you find yourself in either of
these situations, here are a few steps you can take:
- Take notes. Start
writing down every incident or statement that is offensive or just seems fishy.
For example, you might make a log of every inappropriate comment your
supervisor makes or print out any email messages or items posted on company
bulletin boards that contain racial epithets. Keep track of key employment
decisions that you suspect could be based on race, such as how many members of
a particular race have been promoted to a particular position. Make sure to
date your entries and keep your notes at home or in another safe place.
- Talk to other employees. If you have been discriminated against or
harassed because of your race or national origin, chances are that you are not
alone. Talk to your coworkers to find out whether they have faced similar
problems or have seen or heard of any discriminatory behavior towards other
- Take it to management. Make a complaint to someone within the
company. If your company has a complaint policy, use it. Or go to the human
resources department. If neither of these options is available, simply go to a
high-level management official who doesn't seem to be directly involved in the
problem. Or, if you have some concerns but you aren't sure whether
discrimination is at the root of the problem, raise your concerns and ask the
company to investigate the issue.
- Contact a government agency. If your company doesn't take any meaningful
action on your complaint, you can file a charge of discrimination with the
federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or your state's fair
employment practices agency. The government agency will generally ask the
employer to answer your charge and may even conduct an investigation itself.
The agency can ask the employer to hand over documents and explain why certain
employment decisions were made (information the company is unlikely to give you
without being forced to do so).
- File a lawsuit. If
all else fails, you can bring a lawsuit charging the company with
discrimination. To file a lawsuit, you must first have filed a charge with the
EEOC or a state agency.
For more information about race or
national origin discrimination or to file a complaint, contact your local field
office of the EEOC (contact information is available at www.eeoc.gov) or your state's fair employment practices agency. There are time
limits for filing a complaint or a lawsuit, so be sure not to miss them. For a
complete guide to the laws that protect you at work, read Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Repa (Nolo), which covers everything from hiring and
getting paid through privacy and firing.
If you've decided to file an agency
charge or discrimination lawsuit, or you simply want advice on what to do next,
consider a consultation with an experienced employment lawyer. (You can find
lawyers in your area using Nolo's Lawyer Directory.)