June 5, 2019 Category: Race Discrimination
Kimberly Forbes told administrators at Valencia High School that two black female students were being sexually harassed by two male students. Months later, she brought up what she believed was a “racially hostile environment” at the school. When the Black Student Union asked for her help producing a video about the history of the “n-word,” she obliged.
What did Forbes get in return for speaking out on behalf of students of color? Forbes says that the high school administration reassigned her to a lower-paying job. In a racial discrimination lawsuit, Forbes claims that this action amounted to unlawful retaliation.
School Accused of Racial Discrimination
Forbes believes that she was transferred to a different teaching position because she (a) spoke out in defense of students of color and (b) identified the toxic discriminatory culture at her high school. She believes that the school took this action because she is also a person of color. If this is true, the school has violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
In California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against or harassing employees because of a protected characteristic. The state defines several protected characteristics, including sex, national origin, disability, and age. Race is also a protected characteristic under state and federal law.
Discrimination includes retaliatory measures. Retaliation can include:
- Wrongful termination
- Reduced pay or compensation
- Revocation of benefits
- Refusal to hire or promote, and
- Change in job duties.
Forbes will have to prove that she was moved to a different, lower-paying job because she is a woman of color.
Employees Must Prove They’ve Experienced an Adverse Employment Action
When an employee files a racial discrimination lawsuit, they have the burden of proving that they’ve experienced an adverse employment action because of discrimination or harassment. What is an adverse employment action? California explains that this occurs when an employer “has taken an action or engaged in a course or pattern of conduct that, taken as a whole, materially and adversely affected the terms, conditions, or privileges” of an employee’s employment.
Adverse employment actions might include:
- Changing an employee’s job duties
- Limiting an employee’s potential for promotions and raises
- Limiting an employee’s future career options
- Impairing an employee’s ability to do their job, or
- Refusing to promote or compensate an employee properly.
An adverse employment action must be substantial. It must do more than annoy or irritate an employee. It must substantially impair their job or future in some way.
Forbes Can Ask For Her Job Back
Money and other compensatory damages aren’t the only reasons to file a race discrimination lawsuit. Employees can also seek specific performance damages. Specific performance means that a court steps in and forces an employer to (a) do something or (b) refrain from doing something.
Here, Forbes could ask a court to order her employer to reinstate her to her old, better-paying job. The school district would be legally required to offer Forbes her job or a better position. Failure to do so would be considered contempt of court. The district could face harsh penalties for refusing to comply with a court’s demands.