When most people will hear the words “employment discrimination,” they immediately think of the alleged victims as being members of minority groups, women, or older workers. Although most discrimination claims are filed by these groups of people, it might surprise you to know that many of the major laws prohibiting discrimination in employment decisions can also apply to men, and to members of a “majority” race or ethnicity.
The most important federal law prohibiting employment discrimination is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All or nearly all of the 50 states have comparable laws that are patterned after Title VII.
Although the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed primarily to address discrimination against African-Americans, the prohibitions against employment discrimination contained in Title VII of the Act are much broader than that. The law makes illegal any employment discrimination that is based on “race, color, sex, religion, or national origin.” By the plain language of the statute, this prohibits employment discrimination against men as well as women, and against Caucasians as well as members of minority groups. And courts have interpreted the statute to permit claims of “reverse” discrimination brought by employees who are not members of historically disadvantaged groups.
While courts have said that claims of reverse discrimination ARE subject to somewhat closer scrutiny – and a somewhat higher standard of proof – than the more common forms of discrimination claims, such claims have been permitted to move forward (and have been successful) where the evidence points to a finding that a male employee or job applicant, for instance, was treated less favorably than a female because of his gender.
This principle even extends to the area of sexual harassment. Obviously, it has been vastly more common for women to be victimized by harassment in the workplace due to their gender. But under the law, a man sexually harassed by a female manager or supervisor has just as much right to pursue a claim as a woman harassed by a male superior or coworker.
There are exceptions to the rule that “reverse discrimination” is just as illegal as the more “traditional” types of discrimination. The age discrimination laws, for instance, cannot be used to protect a younger worker from discrimination practiced in favor of older workers. And the disability discrimination laws, such as the ADA, do not protect non-disabled employees from discrimination in favor of disabled employees.
Nevertheless, “reverse” discrimination is a very real and legally recognized occurrence. Both employers and employees should be cognizant of this fact in their businesses and employment relationships. Failure to do so can be a costly mistake!