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Employment Discrimination Attorneys Best Answers: What are examples of disparate treatment race discrimination? What qualifies as a hostile work environment under Title VII? What should I do if my job retaliates against me for reporting race and national origin discrimination against Black and Mexican employees?

Our employment attorneys have recently blogged about how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to both create hostile work environments and engage in disparate treatment of employees based on race/color, religion, gender/sex (including pregnancy and LGBTQ+ status), national origin, age, and disability. (See What Is A Hostile Work Environment?; What Is Disparate Treatment?). Our attorneys explained that both hostile work environment and disparate treatment are forms of unlawful employment discrimination. And although wrongful termination is what gets the most attention, a very common violations of Title VII and comparable state laws, such as Ohio Revised Code § 4112.01, et al.

Our employment attorneys have also recently written about the fact that employers will always come up with a story to defend accusations of unlawful discrimination as well as the need for qualified attorneys to help you prove that these stories by the boss, manager or supervisor are lies – or what the law calls pretext (See Employment Discrimination Question: What Is Pretext?; Can My Job Use COVID As An Excuse To Fire Pregnant Workers?)

Today’s racial discrimination example provides a look into all three of these as well as the fact that Title VII as well as all like state laws make it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for reporting, opposing or taking part in an investigation regarding unlaw discrimination against any of the protected classes. Specifically, the opposition clause of Title VII makes it “unlawful … for an employer to discriminate against any … employe[e] … because he has opposed any practice made … unlawful … by this subchapter.” § 2000e–3(a).

In Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 729–30 (6th Cir. 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit further explained:

“The term ‘oppose,’ being left undefined by the statute, carries its ordinary meaning, ‘to resist or antagonize […]; to contend against; to confront; resist; withstand.’ “ Crawford v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., Tenn., 555 U.S. 271, 276, 129 S.Ct. 846, 172 L.Ed.2d 650 (2009) (citing Webster’s New International Dictionary 1710 (2d ed.1958)). The opposition clause protects not only the filing of formal discrimination charges with the EEOC, but also complaints to management and less formal protests of discriminatory employment practices. See Trujillo v. Henniges Auto. Sealing Sys. N. Am., Inc., 495 Fed.Appx. 651, 655 (6th Cir.2012) (“We have repeatedly held that complaints to human resources personnel regarding potential violations of Title VII constitute protected activity for purposes of establishing a prima facie case of retaliation.”) (citing Michael, 496 F.3d at 595); Hill v. Air Tran Airways, 416 Fed.Appx. 494, 498 (6th Cir.2011); Shepard v. Uniboring, 72 Fed.Appx. 333, 336 (6th Cir.2003). Thus, in addition to the Charges that Plaintiff filed with the EEOC, we must also consider the harassment complaints that Plaintiff filed internally with human resources to be protected activities under Title VII.

To establish a claim of retaliation, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) he or she engaged in a protected activity; (2) such protected activity was known by the employer; (3) thereafter, the employer took an action that was “materially adverse” to the employee; and (4) a causal connection existed between the protected activity and the materially adverse action. The materially adverse action is also called an adverse action. For the purposes of a retaliation claim, this means an action by a boss, manager, supervisor, or the owner of the company that you work at which would have dissuaded a reasonable employee from engaging in a similar protected activity of opposing, reporting or participating in an investigation regarding suspected discrimination. While a wrongful termination will clearly be an adverse action, lesser actions by your employer will also satisfy this requirement.

In this example, six former employees filed a lawsuit against their former employer, United Electrical Contractors in Detroit, Michigan.

First, lets look at the hostile work environment claims against five of the employees (four are Black and one is Hispanic): The former employees allege that the employer knew about and permitted overtly racial and national origin harassment, including that “White employees use[d] the N-word so often it became a part of the air.” Another White employee told an African American employee “to hurry up or he would ‘pull out [his] whip.’” Other comments directed toward Black employees included, “boy on a slave ship,” “go back to the plantation,” “brown boy,” and just being referred to as “Mexican” instead of this name. This is not the first time, and unfortunately not the worst racist conduct that our attorneys have faced. (See Top Race Discrimination Lawyer Rely: My Boss Called Me A “N*gger” and “Porch Monkey.” What Should I Do?; My Racist Boss Says “Nigger,” “Wetback,” “Wagon Burner,” & “Beaner” All The Time! I Need A Lawyer!)

Next, the disparate treatment claims: According to the Complaint, white employees were regularly given preferential treatment and provided better training opportunities, and workers of color. Our employment discrimination attorneys recently blogged about how unequal application of work rules can be a violation of Title VII. (See Can Unequal Progressive Discipline Prove Discrimination?). And unequal training denies minority workers and people of color the chance to get necessary learning opportunities and in turn, denies them upward advancement and promotions. (See When Does Being Passed Up For A Promotion Equal Discrimination?; I Was Passed Up For A Promotion Because My Boss Thinks I’m Too Old. I Need The Top Age Discrimination Lawyer In Ohio!; Can I Be Denied A Promotion Because I Am Transgender? I Need A Lawyer!). Another example was White foremen being given company credit cards while Black foremen were not.

As the last part of the claims, let’s look at the retaliation component, and specifically the claims of Jordan Shank, who is a White supervisor who reportedly heard and reported the racial discrimination and harassment by other managers to stand up “against the rampant racism.” Shank alleges that in retaliation for reporting and opposing such conduct the company made him dig trenches by hand while other workers were provided with backhoes. That seems like materially adverse action designed to prevent a reasonable employee from reporting further discrimination. The only thing that could have made such conduct worse would have been to have left a shovel right outside of Human Resources (HR) as a reminder of the consequence for reporting racial and ethnic discrimination.

For the employer’s part, it simply denies that any of this happened and that these employees are just liars out to harm the company. The boss told the Detroit News that the company “conducted a thorough, independent review, revealing nothing to substantiate those claims.” Given that you have six different people, including a White foreman, confirming what the others have said means that there actually is undisputedly something to substantiate the reports. This is equivalent to a boss saying, “if we ignore all the people saying that there is race discrimination going on, then our investigation turned up no evidence at all.” Moreover, when this gets to a jury – if it does not settle first – I would point at the employer and tell the jury, “Of course, no one else had come forward to corroborate the occurrences of race and national origin discrimination because these people made Shank dig ditches by hand!”

This will be a fun one to watch.

If you feel that you are being discriminated based on your race or national origin, then call the right attorney. Race and national origin discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. If you were wrongfully fired today for reporting or opposing discrimination or harassment in the workplace, our attorneys will fight for you.  When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. Our Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown and Detroit lawyers are here to fight for your rights.


The materials available at the top of this race discrimination and national origin hostile work environment page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking: “What should I do if my boss fired me today for reporting being called the n-word”, “I’m being discriminated against because I am African American”, “my boss is discriminating against me because I’m Mexican,” or “How do I sue for retaliation under Title VII”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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