Labor Law and Racial Discrimination in Virginia


Area of Law: 

It is difficult to understand how in this day and age, racial discrimination can still exist.  Virginia has an admirable history of fighting racial discrimination in the workplace, and many laws are in place both at the state and federal level to ensure that all work environments are safe and fair for all workers.  Nonetheless, incidents still occur where people are racially profiled and employment-related decisions are being made based on that profiling.  Virginia is an at-will employment state, meaning that either an employer or an employee can terminate the work relationship at any time and for any reason.  This should not, however, be misinterpreted as free license for employers to make racially-motivated decisions as employers are strictly forbidden from discriminating on the basis of race. 


Severe punishments await employers and companies who either participate or encourage discriminatory practices.  This means that no one in your company is allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of race and that you cannot be asked to help another person commit a discriminatory act.  If your boss has asked you to do something that you believe is a discriminatory practice, and you are not given a sufficient explanation that indicates otherwise, then you may have reason to believe you are being asked to do something illegal, which means that you are within your rights to refuse.  If you are retaliated against for refusing (for example, if you are fired or your pay is cut), this is an offense that is taken just as seriously as the initial act of discrimination, and you may file a complaint. 


Racial discrimination does not only entail direct discrimination against certain races; it can also be indirect, targeting people who are married to someone of a certain race or color, for example.  You may even be discriminated against based on things like the kind of music you listen to, the type of car you drive, or the style of clothes you wear if your employer asserts that "those kinds of things" are associated with people of a certain race.  Stereotyping in itself is not a crime, but when work decisions are being made based on an employer’s ideas about which races of people are best at certain types of jobs, that's when it crosses over into an illegal offense.


Racial discrimination can also involve a hostile work environment and harassment.  Virginia law carries harsh punishments for people who commit acts of harassment in the workplace through the use of racial slurs or stereotypes.  While there is some leeway about teasing and offhand remarks, in general, if you feel your colleagues or managers have created a work environment that makes you feel uncomfortable due to their feelings about your race or skin color, you can contact a lawyer.  Your lawyer will advise you as to the strength of your case, and if necessary, he or she can help you file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC