Holocaust Remembrance: A Refresher on Discrimination in the Workplace

By: Jessica B. Jackler, Associate

April 12th was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember that only 70 years ago, over 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Many news outlets reported on this date that younger generations are not educated about the Holocaust and that there is a growing fear that memories of it will fade as the last of the survivors pass. With a surge in anti-Semitism reported in 2017, these issues are still all too prevalent in today’s society.

The Holocaust stemmed from discriminatory animus directed against a targeted minority group. These types of racial, religious and ethnic prejudices and stereotypes have not entirely faded over time despite the passage of the greater portion of a century. Its pervasiveness in society undoubtedly pours into the workplace.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, religion, color and ethnicity in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups.

Companies are further charged with the responsibility of safeguarding their employees from discriminatory and harassing behavior in the workplace based on these protected characteristics.

Below is a helpful refresher on Title VII’s protections as dictated by the EEOC with regard to religion, race and color:


Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment. The law also prohibits job segregation based on religion, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.

In addition to prohibited conduct, Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of applicants and employees unless doing so would cause an undue burden on business operations of the company. A reasonable religious accommodation is any modification to the employee’s work environment that will allow the employee to practice his or her religion. Some examples may include: (1) flexible scheduling; (2) voluntary shift substitutions or swaps; (3) job reassignments; (4) lateral transfers; (5) and exceptions to dress or grooming rules.

Under Title VII, religious harassment of employees is further prohibited. This conduct may include offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices. The harassment, similar to that of sexual harassment, must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision in order to be considered unlawful.


Recruiting, Hiring, and Advancement:
With regard to the hiring and promotion process, job requirements must be uniformly and consistently applied to persons of all races and colors. Examples of potentially unlawful practices under Title VII 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.

In general, employers should not solicit information from applicants and employees about their race. Employers may, however, need information about their employees or applicants race for affirmative action purposes and/or for other tracking reasons. If your company wants to obtain race and color information for a lawful purpose during the hiring process, the EEOC recommends using separate forms or to 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. It is important to keep in mind, however, that unless the race information is for such a legitimate purpose during the hiring process and instead used for selection reasons, the pre-employment inquiries can constitute evidence of discrimination.

Terms and Conditions of Employment, Including Compensation:
Race or color discrimination may not be the basis for disparities in compensation or benefits, job duties, performance evaluations, work training, disciplinary or termination decisions, or any other area of employment.

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.

Segregation and Classification of Employees:
It is unlawful under Title VII to segregate minority employees 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. It is a violation of Title VII to make racially motivated decisions driven by business concerns, such as concerns about the effect on employee relations, or the negative reaction of clients or customers.

Practice Pointer: Employers should not consider an applicant or existing employee’s religion, race or color when making employment decisions. Although this article’s focus was limited to religion, race and color, these general principles apply to other protected characteristics under Title VII and related state laws. Employers should review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with applicable anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws and also to promote a culture of inclusion.

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