Legal Corner

Understanding racial harassment

You need to know about many legal issues when hiring employees. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It expressly prohibits employers from refusing to hire or discharging an employee based on a prohibited factor. Likewise, Title VII also expressly states it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to his or her compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Despite these prohibitions, Title VII does not explicitly mention racial harassment. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the phrase "terms, conditions or privileges of employment" allows congressional intent to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate employment treatment, which includes requiring people to work in discriminatory, hostile or abusive environments. Therefore, claims alleging racial harassment are brought under Title VII.

Who is the harasser?

When facing a claim alleging racial harassment, first determine whether the claimant is alleging the harassment was committed by a supervisor or co-worker. This is the threshold issue necessary to support a defense for harassment. The facts necessary to prove harassment committed by a supervisor differ from those necessary to prove harassment committed by a co-worker.