Unintentional Discrimination May Still Be Unlawful

Most people are well aware that enacting policies that intentionally discriminate against people because of their race, disability, sex, etc., is illegal. However, even seemingly neutral policies may also be unlawful if they have a greater negative impact on people in a protected class. Here's more information about this issue and what you need to prove in court if you suspect this is happening to you.

Disparate Impact

Disparate impact is a provision in many anti-discrimination laws, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967. This provision states a policy that would otherwise appear neutral on the surface may be considered discriminatory if it's unnecessary and application of the policy has essentially the same effect as actively discriminating against people in a protected class.

For instance, in Griggs vs. Duke Power Co—the first case to address disparate impact—the company was prohibited from actively discriminating against African-American workers. As a way of getting around this prohibition, Duke Power Co required employees to pass two aptitude tests and have at least a high school diploma to qualify for higher paying jobs in the company.

The employees sued, and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, stating the aptitude tests and diploma were not related to the jobs. Thus, the company was essentially found guilty of discrimination because the unnecessary requirements adversely impacted the ability of African Americans to secure better jobs in the company.

Proving Disparate Impact

It's not enough to show that a protected class is being unfairly hurt by a specific policy, although you may have to provide the court with statistics showing the uneven impact the policy is having on the affected group(s).

However, to win a discrimination case based on disparate impact, you must also show

  • The policy is not related to the job in question, and/or
  • The policy isn't necessary to the company's operation

For example, a business may require employees to have high school diplomas to be employed there. However, the company is located in an area where most people didn't finish school. You would have to show that a high school diploma isn't necessary for performing the job in question or that people who have GEDs would be equally prepared to do the work.

Most of the time, discrimination via disparate impact policies is not intentional. Therefore, you may be required to make an attempt to bring the problem to the attention to those in charge before filing a lawsuit against the company. It's best to consult with a discrimination attorney, such as one from the Law Offices of Jeffrey Needle, for advice on the best way to handle this type of case.