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What Does “Disparate Impact” Mean in a Racial Discrimination Case?

 Posted on March 26, 2019 in Workplace Discrimination

Allegheny County work discrimination lawyer disparate impact“Disparate impact” by race means that an employment policy has a greater negative impact on people of a particular race, even if the employer did not intend the policy to be discriminatory and even if the policy does not appear obviously discriminatory on its face. You can file a claim for financial compensation if you have been terminated from your job or otherwise suffered race-based employment discrimination as the result of a workplace policy with disparate impact. 

Requirements to Claim Racial Discrimination By Disparate Impact 

In order to make a valid disparate-impact claim against an employer, several conditions must be met. First, you must have personally suffered harm as a result of the policy, such as being fired because you violated the policy.

Second, according to current court rulings, the basis of racial discrimination must be an unchangeable condition of your race, such as skin color or a medical condition that has been scientifically linked to your race. “Cultural expressions” of your race such as hairstyles and styles of dress do not currently qualify as race-based discrimination, although this could change in the future, because religious expressions have already been granted legal protection.

Third, a policy will not be ruled discriminatory when the employer:

  • Has a valid reason for a policy. 
  • Applies the policy consistently across races.
  • Offers reasonable accommodations to employees who specifically request an exception for race-based reasons, unless the accommodation would place an undue hardship on the employer.

Examples of Racial Discrimination By Disparate Impact 

The use of standardized tests not directly tied to job performance and the requirement of a high school diploma are two examples of hiring and promotion practices that were found to have a disparate impact on African-Americans in the 1960s. More recently, grooming and appearance policies forbidding beards have been under scrutiny. 

A workplace policy prohibiting beards can have a disparate impact on black men, who are far more likely than men of other races to suffer from a skin condition called “razor bumps” that makes shaving painful. In the absence of a legitimate justification for the policy, employers must generally accommodate a worker with this skin condition by allowing the worker to wear a neatly trimmed beard. A University of Pennsylvania police officer with razor bumps who was disciplined for growing a beard in violation of policy has an ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit in federal court. 

But what if the no-beard policy exists for legitimate business reasons? For example, some workers must wear a tightly-fitting face mask to protect them from airborne contaminants or to ensure a sterile working environment, as in a laboratory or operating room. Mask-fit requirements are defined by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and an employer could be sued if a worker was harmed by an ill-fitting mask. In this situation, the employer could be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a worker with razor bumps, such as allowing the worker to wear a full-head hood, unless the extra cost of a non-standard hood would be an undue hardship for the employer.

Consult a Pittsburgh Employer Race Discrimination Lawyer

If you believe you have been the subject of illegal discrimination or harassment in the workplace, consult a knowledgeable Allegheny County employer race discrimination attorney. Call our Wexford office at 412-680-7877 for a free review of your case. 


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