California law on racial harassment at workplace explained

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act specifically prohibits harassment based on “race, religious creed, color, and national origin.” Hostile work environment claims based on racial harassment are reviewed under the same standard as those based on sexual harassment. Thus, allegations of a racially hostile workplace must be assessed from the perspective of a reasonable person belonging to the same racial or ethnic group as plaintiff.

Harassment Standard under California Law

To constitute racial harassment, the conduct must be sufficiently “severe” or “pervasive” to later the conditions of the victim’s employment. The victim of the racial harassment must show a concerted partner of harassment of a repeated, routine or a generalized nature” and that the conduct constituted an “unreasonably abusive or offensive work-related environment or adversely affected the reasonable employee’s ability to do his or her job.”

Although occasional, isolated incidents are usually not enough to create hostile work environment, even a single act by a supervisor may be severe enough to alter the conditions of employment. Thus, while the co-workers single racist remark may not be sufficient to constitute harassment, the same statement by the victim’s direct supervisor might be actionable, due to the authority that the supervisor has over a victim and the increase stress/injury resulting as a result of being subject to harassment by the person in a position of authority.

Employer’s Duty to Prevent Harassment

As with sexual harassment claims, an employer has a duty to prevent and remedy instances of racial and national origin harassment. An employer who fails to remedy problems of which it has actual or constructive knowledge may be held liable for harassment despite the existence of a formal policy against harassment.

Harassment by member of same race

At least one federal court held that racial slurs may constitute harassment even if made by one member to another member of the same race, as the court held in Ross v. Douglas County (8th Cir. 2000).

When harassment is aimed at others

Because the injury from harassment focuses on the workplace environment as a whole, a hostile environment may exist even if some of the hostility is directed at other workers. Thus, where racial slurs have been directed at a minority race of which plaintiff is a member, similar slurs directed at other minorities may contribute to the overall hostility of the working environment.

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