A variety of laws - local, state and federal - protect a person from racial/color discrimination in the workplace.
At the federal level Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is intented to prevent or at least remedy racial discrimination. Title VII covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.
As summarized by the EEOC, Title VII is inteded to protect workers in the following manner:
- Recruiting, Hiring, and Advancement
Job requirements must be uniformly and consistently applied to persons of all races and colors. Even if a job requirement is applied consistently, if it is not important for job performance or business needs, the requirement may be found unlawful if it excludes persons of a certain racial group or color significantly more than others. Examples of potentially unlawful practices include: (1) soliciting applications only from sources in which all or most potential workers are of the same race or color; (2) requiring applicants to have a certain educational background that is not important for job performance or business needs; (3) testing applicants for knowledge, skills or abilities that are not important for job performance or business needs.
Employers may legitimately need information about their employees or applicants race for affirmative action purposes and/or to track applicant flow. One way to obtain racial information and simultaneously guard against discriminatory selection is for employers to use separate forms or otherwise keep the information about an applicant's race separate from the application. In that way, the employer can capture the information it needs but ensure that it is not used in the selection decision.
Unless the information is for such a legitimate purpose, pre-employment questions about race can suggest that race will be used as a basis for making selection decisions. If the information is used in the selection decision and members of particular racial groups are excluded from employment, the inquiries can constitute evidence of discrimination.
- Compensation and Other Employment Terms, Conditions, and Privileges
Title VII prohibits discrimination in compensation and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Thus, race or color discrimination may not be the basis for differences in pay or benefits, work assignments, performance evaluations, training, discipline or discharge, or any other area of employment.
Harassment on the basis of race and/or color violates Title VII. Ethnic slurs, racial "jokes," offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual's race/color constitutes unlawful harassment if the conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interferes with the individual's work performance.
Employees have a right to be free from retaliation for their opposition to discrimination or their participation in an EEOC proceeding by filing a charge, testifying, assisting, or otherwise participating in an agency proceeding.
- Segregation and Classification of Employees
Title VII is violated where minority employees are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contact. Title VII also prohibits assigning primarily minorities to predominantly minority establishments or geographic areas. It is also illegal to exclude minorities from certain positions or to group or categorize employees or jobs so that certain jobs are generally held by minorities. Title VII also does not permit racially motivated decisions driven by business concerns – for example, concerns about the effect on employee relations, or the negative reaction of clients or customers. Nor may race or color ever be a bona fide occupational qualification under Title VII.
Coding applications/resumes to designate an applicant's race, by either an employer or employment agency, constitutes evidence of discrimination where minorities are excluded from employment or from certain positions. Such discriminatory coding includes the use of facially benign code terms that implicate race, for example, by area codes where many racial minorities may or are presumed to live.
- Pre-Employment Inquiries and Requirements
Requesting pre-employment information which discloses or tends to disclose an applicant's race suggests that race will be unlawfully used as a basis for hiring. Solicitation of such pre-employment information is presumed to be used as a basis for making selection decisions. Therefore, if members of minority groups are excluded from employment, the request for such pre-employment information would likely constitute evidence of discrimination.
However, employers may legitimately need information about their employees' or applicants' race for affirmative action purposes and/or to track applicant flow. One way to obtain racial information and simultaneously guard against discriminatory selection is for employers to use "tear-off sheets" for the identification of an applicant's race. After the applicant completes the application and the tear-off portion, the employer separates the tear-off sheet from the application and does not use it in the selection process.
Other pre-employment information requests which disclose or tend to disclose an applicant’s race are personal background checks, such as criminal history checks. Title VII does not categorically prohibit employers’ use of criminal records as a basis for making employment decisions. Using criminal records as an employment screen may be lawful, legitimate, and even mandated in certain circumstances. However, employers that use criminal records to screen for employment must comply with Title VII’s nondiscrimination requirements.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.
- Recruiting, Hiring, and Advancement
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission handles claims on the federal level. They enforce federal anti-discrimination laws including laws against sexual harassment. The claim must be filed within 300 days of the occurence.
The EEOC can be contacted at:
U.S. Equal Employment Oppor. Comm'n Chicago District Office
500 W. Madison,
Chicago, IL 60611-2511
(312) 353-2713; 2714
(312) 353-2421 (TDD)
(312) 353-7355 (Fax)
The State of Illinois uses both the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Illinois Human Rights Commission to handle claims under the Illnois Human Rights Act. Claims must be filed within 180 days of the occurence.
A charge is filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and an agent is assigned to investigate the claim. If the claim is found to have merit a charge is filed with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. An individual has a right to file a charge with the Illinois Human Rights Commission even if the IDHR does not find their claim to have merit.
The Human Rights Commission assigns an administrative judge to the case and a public hearing is held to determine the merits of the claim.
The Illinois Department of Human Rights can be contacted at:
Illinois Department of Human Rights
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 263-1579 (TDD)
(312) 814-1541 (Fax)
If you live in Cook County you can file a charge with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. The Commission on Human Rights is charged with applying the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance.
The Commission on Human Rights can be contacted at:
Cook County Commission on Human Rights
69 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 603-1101 (TDD)
(312) 603-9988 (FAX)
The city of Chicago Commission on Human Relations hears complaints filed by plaintiffs and can award monetary damages to the successful plaintiff.
Filing a charge with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations is free and no lawyer is required to pursue a case. Though it is generally advisable to hire a lawyer to represent you as the defendant usually will and the legal arguments will be more familiar to a lawyer.
The Commission on Human Relations can be contacted at:
Chicago Commission on Human Relations
740 N. Sedgwick,
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 744-1088 (TDD)
(312) 744-1081 (FAX)