5 Subtle Signs of Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace is illegal, and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If a person can prove that they suffered discrimination based on their race, they have the legal right to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While some acts of racism are blatant and overt, others are much more subtle.

Racism & Discrimination at Work

Discrimination in the workplace can take a substantial mental toll on victims and cause psychological anguish and distress. A workplace should be a place free from any kind of discrimination, especially racial discrimination.V. James DeSimone Law is an employment attorney in Los Angeles who focuses his entire practice on fighting for workplace and civil rights.

Here are five subtle signs of racial discrimination in the workplace.


In some cases, incidents of subtle racism can appear in areas before a person even has a job with a company. For example, if a job candidate with a master’s degree in business and a decade of experience seeks employment with a company but is directed to the assembly line or the warehouse division, it may be because the candidate for the position was racially discriminated against by the human resources department. Oftentimes, the racism rears is ugly head in preferential treatment, interfering with opportunities, unfair criticism, ostracism and verbal bulling.

Management must also examine whether their decisions regarding those seeking employment, or those currently employed are ever subject to racial discrimination based on misconceptions, incorrect perceptions, incomplete information, or false generalizations based on race. These harmful stereotypes essential attribute the exact same characteristics (typically false) to every member of a group of people and ignoring how each person performs and behaves on an individual basis.

Another subtle way stereotyping may occur is through language. Are terms such as “us” and “they” used frequently to create division? Are negative attributes being ascribed to one race or ethnicity? Are jokes said that could be considered racially inflammatory or insulting? Are comments made about a particular culture or custom of a specific group of people? While these examples do not illustrate the screaming of racial epithets, the result is the same, which is a consistent negative stereotype against a particular race.

Overlooked for Promotions

There is often a ceiling past which many may not advance in their workplace due to their race. Many ambitious and extremely talented men and women are unable to move past their current position and status at work, receive promotions or salary raises, or advance in their career to top management positions due to their race, (or ethnicity or gender). In many cases, this type of subtle discrimination may be difficult to prove as many decisions regarding promotions or raises are discretionary in nature. Whether it is difficult to prove or not, it is still a sign of a microaggression and passive racism that can cause just as much substantial damage. If a candidate has better qualifications and more work experience with excellent results and is passed over for a promotion which is then given to someone with less education or less experience, the discretionary decision may have included the factor of race.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias may include other areas such as being overlooked for a promotion or stereotyping; however, implicit bias can infect and bleed into every part of a company and include everything from business decisions to workplace culture. This subconscious bias results in discriminatory tendencies that are also often difficult to spot or identify, therefore may also be difficult to remedy. Any area of a company could be affected by this, and therefore management and human resources needs to take the time to ensure that their company immediately recognizes and works to ensure that this type of racial discrimination does not occur, or stops immediately once it is identified. For example, instead of waiting for acts of overt racism to occur, employers should constantly seek out the opinions of those of other races and ask how the company is handling race or discrimination within areas such as hiring, promotions, company culture, work socialization events, charities chosen, associations with different brands and other businesses, etc.

Overly Critical Supervisors

Every person in the workplace has challenges, struggles and needs mentor-ship and guidance. However, when the criticism never ends, and it seems that no matter what a person does it never is good enough, it may be because of subtle racial discrimination. It is important that any criticism in a company is uniformly applied to all workers. Reacting too quickly with too harsh of criticism against only those of a different race is a subtle sign of racial discrimination in the workplace.

Open Hostility

Open hostility may not seem subtle, but it is much more subtle than direct racial epithets and racial slurs. For example, if a person is mocked for the way they speak, cultural behaviors they engage in, food they eat, or music they listen to, it may be a sign of racial discrimination. The victims of this type of open hostility typically always feel out-of-place in the workplace and never are truly allowed to become a true team member or a part of the office. Always outside the office culture, these workers are ostracized through small acts of open hostility that tend to become normalized through repetition. In some cases, these types of open hostility can be disguised as jokes or shrouded under the cloak of “good-old-fashioned” teasing. However, management should never allow these types of criticisms, judgments, or hostility to occur against anyone of a different race within a company. They are absolute signs of racial discrimination and can cause serious mental anguish and damage to those targeted.

Contact V. James DeSimone Law

If you feel you have been the victim of any type of subtle racial discrimination in the workplace contact V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561, provide our intake team with a summary of your case and, if it qualifies, we will schedule an appointment with our team of our experienced employment attorneys today. While it may be more difficult to prove subtle racial discrimination, the result is the same, which is illegal unequal treatment. The decision to file a claim for subtle racial discrimination in the workplace can involve complicated and complex legal strategies, and our experienced attorneys can help you build a strong case.

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