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Trends in the Law: Race-Based Discrimination

Below is an installment in our Trends in the Law series.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with more than 15 employees from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 makes it illegal for employers with more than 3 employees to discriminate against anyone on the basis of national origin or citizenship status (unless the person is an unauthorized immigrant). The Civil Rights Act of 1991 amends and strengthens the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and provides for recovery of monetary damages for intentional discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is the agency with the authority to administer these laws. Discrimination complaints are filed with the EEOC. If the complaint is not dismissed for any procedural reason, it must be investigated by the agency within 180 days of the date of filing. A complainant can settle with the agency at any time. When the investigation is completed within 180 days, the complainant can request a hearing, settle, or ask for the agency to issue a decision. If a hearing is requested, the matter goes before an EEOC Administrative Judge. If the investigation is not completed within 180 days, a complainant can simply wait for it to be completed, request a hearing, or file a lawsuit in federal district court.


A recent poll done with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that discrimination based on race is alive and well, despite the laws described above. This finding is consistent with the EEOC’s own breakdown of the types of complaints for discrimination filed in 2017, which showed that complaints based on race were 33.9% of all complaints filed, or over 1/3. The Robert Wood Johnson-Harvard poll surveyed 3,453 adults, 803 of whom identified as Latino or Hispanic, and asked if they had ever personally experienced discrimination based on their race in various areas. The percentage that responded affirmatively is listed below:

applying for jobs 33%

being paid/promoted equally 32%

trying to rent/buy housing 31%

interacting with police 27%

going to doctor/health clinic 20%

applying to/attending college 19%

trying to vote/participating in politics 15%

An interesting finding of the survey was that non-immigrant Latinos reporting race-based discrimination was actually a higher percentage than immigrant Latinos.


The effects of discrimination are many. The most obvious are a denial of access to better jobs, housing, education and healthcare. The denial of access to those causes a downward economic spiral, which further exacerbates the lack of access and perpetuates the cycle. The ability to rent or buy housing affects the school district to which your children go; the education they receive can affect the college they attend, which affects the jobs they attain. All of these are further impacted by racial bias, intentional or unintentional, in college admissions and job selection processes.

The lack of access to quality healthcare also creates a downward spiral, since lack of preventative care leads to lost productivity and more need for acute care. The reduced access to healthcare is particularly troubling given the fact that research shows a correlation between higher levels of discrimination in all forms—less respect, less courtesy, receiving poorer service—and higher rates of coronary heart disease. Discrimination, even in subtle forms, over long periods of time erodes self-esteem and causes fear, leading to heart disease.


If you or someone you know has been discriminated against based on race, religion, color, sex or national origin, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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