Race Discrimination in Employment

Issue: Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees because of race.  This article discusses a specific federal statute prohibiting race discrimination in employment, as well as a recently filed case in federal court asserting claims of employment discrimination against three African American employees because of race.

Employment discrimination is often attributed to being enforced through Title VII and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (known as the EEOC), the federal administrative agency charged with enforcing such claims of employment discrimination.  Too often we overlook older civil rights statutes that are as powerful today as they were when codified years and years ago.  These civil rights statutes may provide longer statute of limitations (i.e., the period during which you can sue) and have no requirement to first exhaust your administrative remedies before filing in federal court.

One such statute is 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”).

Race Discrimination Under Section 1981:

Section 1981 first became law in 1866.  It was intended to reconcile the detrimental effects of slavery.  Section 1981 is arguably the oldest of our civil rights statutes.  Under Section 1981, African American citizens were provided equal rights under the law.

Even today, over 150 years later, Section 1981 states that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.”

“Make and enforce contracts” has expanded over time to include “the making, performance, modification and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.”

Section 1981 provides a vehicle for relief for anyone who has been discriminated against because of their race, provided they have (or would have) rights under an existing or proposed contract.

Every employee in the United States has rights under an existing (i.e., you are employed) or proposed (i.e., you are seeking to become employed) employment contract, regardless of whether that employee is at-will or not.

Recently Filed Lawsuit Under Section 1981:

On Monday, November 27, 2017, Attorney Alec Wright from this law firm filed a complaint on behalf of three African American employees against American Tire Distributors, Inc. (“ATD”).  Race discrimination is the sole basis of the complaint.  The complaint asserts that the privileges, terms and conditions of plaintiffs’ employment, because of their race, was worse than that afforded to white employees.  The race discrimination is alleged to have occurred at ATD’s location in Clinton, Pennsylvania.

The complaint asserts, among other things, that plaintiffs were required to work longer and harder routes than their white counterparts.  They were also provided with less resources than white employees, including being required to drive old and unsafe company trucks while white employees were always permitted to drive new company trucks.  The complaint also asserts that plaintiffs were disciplined for matters that white employees were not.  In the case of two of plaintiffs, they were fired for alleged driving infractions that white employees had also committed but were not terminated for.

Plaintiffs assert that the worse privileges, terms and conditions of their employment was because of their race.

The Point:

As citizens in this democracy, we always have a voice.  Unfortunately, that voice is not always heard.  In this case, these hardworking African American employees reported their perception of race discrimination at ATD over and over, but either nothing was done to correct it or they were told that nothing could be done.

We utilize various civil rights statutes–here, Section 1981–to make our voice heard.

In our view, equal opportunity is the fundamental foundation on which we must build.  That means removing race discrimination from employment to the greatest extent possible.  This law firm is committed to that end.