Civil Rights Law and Racial discrimination in the workforce

by on January 2, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

The definition of ‘white’ for racial discrimination lawsuits.

“You were insubordinate,” HR director Debbie DiMuro told Shahpour Ardebili. “Your supervisor’s report is clear on that point.”

“Kent Jeffers is a very prejudiced man,” Shahpour said. “He has always treated me worse than the other workers because I am Iranian.”

“Do you deny you were insubordinate?” Debbie asked.

“I said back to him the same kind of things the other employees say,” Shahpour said. “I said he should try to do the job the way he was telling me to do it. Then he would see his method wasn’t practical.”

“Kent’s report says you refused a direct order,” Debbie said. “Is that so?”

Refusing an order

Shahpour said nothing.

“Did you tell Kent that you wouldn’t do the job he directed you to do?” Debbie persisted.

“I told him I would do it my way, and when I got around to it,” Shahpour responded slowly. “Again, that is the kind of thing everybody says when Jeffers is being ridiculous.”

“Insubordination is a firing offense,” Debbie said. “We have to let you go.”

“This is discrimination,” Shahpour said. “You are doing to me, an Iranian, something you would not do to an American. And I am as white as you. We are Caucasians, Aryans.”

“I deny we are discriminating against you,” Debbie said. “And besides, if you’re white, on what basis would we allegedly be discriminating? White isn’t a protected minority.”

Shahpour filed racial discrimination lawsuits.
Did he win?

The decision

No, Shahpour didn’t win. But he could have. Although technically considered Caucasian in what the court called “this messy business of classifying persons by race,” he was still able to bring racial discrimination lawsuits.

Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Section 1981 – which goes way back to 1866 – has no explicit provisions about national origin.

But when Congress enacted Section 1981, many national origin groups that are now considered white, weren’t. Like Germans! In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled that members of any group Congress intended to protect under Section 1981 can bring racial discrimination cases. The court in this case ruled that Iranians are protected.

Important distinctions

There are important differences between Title VII and Section 1981. There’s no lower limit to the size of a firm that can be sued under Section 1981. Also, the statute of limitations is longer – four years. You’re not necessarily off the hook if an unhappy employee doesn’t sue under Title VII.

Cite: Pourgoraishi v. Flying J, No. 05-1107, 7th Cir., 4/20/06. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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