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What Constitutes Racial Discrimination in the Workplace?


There are two basic types of racial discrimination in the workplace: direct, and indirect.(1) The former involves someone being treated unfavorably in a work or job interview setting because of their race or a trait generally associated with a particular race such as skin color, accent, and hair. Indirect discrimination occurs when a person is mistreated because of the fact that they are married or linked to a third party of a specific race.

Filing a Complaint

U.S. federal law broadly dictates that a person has six months, or 180 days, from the day of the alleged racial discrimination to file a formal complaint.(2) However, if the person works for a federal agency, the complaint must be registered within 45 days. Other government agency contexts allow for up to 300 days to file, separate from any variations in state racial discrimination law guidelines.

The basic tenets of racial discrimination were forged in Article VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today, the first step in resolving a racial discrimination complaint can often involve mediation. There is also great consideration given throughout the process to confidentiality, to basically protect the future job prospects of all parties.

Large Number of Complaints

Accusations of racial discrimination in the U.S. workplace have mushroomed in recent decades. Many of these cases involve African-Americans who claim a hostile work environment or termination because of their race.(3)

Racial discrimination can take all sorts of different forms. In the case of a recent Illinois complaint, two African-American employees complained that their bosses referred to black workers and customers as “you people”; that they were denied raises while Caucasian co-workers of equal status and pay were promoted; and that when they complained in 2008 of the conduct, that they were terminated without a proper investigation into their allegations. EEOC law extends racial discrimination to not just hiring and firing but also the realms of job duties, training, fringe benefits, and other related areas.



(1) U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Race-Color Disrimination, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from

(2) U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Filing a Charge of Discrimination, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from

(3) Rockford Register Star – “Two Former Employees Sue Gray’s Food for Racial Discrimination”, May 3, 2011, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from

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