Over the last few weeks, a lot of white people have been having some hard and long overdue conversations about systemic racism, police brutality, equal justice and the fact that Black lives matter. Talk needs to turn into action, not just in the streets but also in the workplace. Structural racism embedded in hiring decisions, identifying advancement opportunities, and promotion decisions have cascading effects on the lives of Black people, and not just at work. Healthcare is often tied to employment, so the hiring decisions broadens healthcare disparity. And the wage gap, widened by a lack of advancement opportunities and promotions, creates and hardens income inequality and intergenerational wealth disparities.
On paper, California laws prohibit discrimination based on historically targeted characteristics, including one’s race or national origin. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 (“FEHA”) (Government Code §§12900 – 12996), among other things, makes it illegal for businesses with five or more employees to discriminate against any employee or potential employee because of the race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of that person. Cal. Gov Code § 12940(a). The FEHA also prohibits retaliation against any person who opposes discrimination in the workplace. Cal. Gov Code § 12940(h).
So, what can workers who want to be allies in the fight to end white supremacy do? Whether you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace targeted at your race, benefitting from systemic white privilege or witnessing discrimination or harassment, the response should be the same: Oppose discrimination and racism in all of its forms and notify the employer in writing. If you see a racist meme or hear a racists joke or comment, call it out for what it is and report it to management, in writing. If you notice Black job candidates are being repeatedly passed over, report it to management, in writing. If promotional opportunities are disproportionately going to white employees over Black employees, report it to management, in writing. If discipline and terminations disproportionally are applied to Black employees, report it to management, in writing.
By notifying your employer in writing about instances and systems of racism in the workplace, you are giving the employer an opportunity to address and cure the problem, and you are taking away from the employer the ability to pretend they didn’t know. California’s employers are required to conduct prompt, thorough and fair investigations of any report of discrimination in the workplace. Employers are also required to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct any unlawful behavior in the workplace, including discrimination. Thus, speaking out about discrimination in the workplace can have a meaningful and lasting impact.
If the employer refuses to address the discriminatory practices or retaliates against you for standing up for your rights and the rights of others, you should certainly contact an employment attorney. Whether through your attorney or on your own, another important step is to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Our laws can be a tool in our collective toolbox to help end systemic racism if we are willing to enforce them.
Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP has been in the fight against race discrimination for over a decade and our attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience representing employees in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation cases. If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination in the workplace or retaliated against by your employer because you have opposed discriminatory practices at work, please contact us.