A Change Must Come: Race and Reform in Workplace Law

Statuette of Themis - the goddess of justice on lawyer's desk. Lawyer is stamping the document. Law office concept.

By Phillis H. Rambsy 

Racial minorities seeking legal recourse for racial discrimination in the workplace often find that, if the law offers any remedies at all, there are insurmountable obstacles to obtaining justice.  Any reforms in workplace laws must recognise the long-standing pervasiveness of systemic racism. This essay aims to spark discussion on the reforms needed in anti-discrimination laws within workplaces that are definitely not characterised by post-racial sentiments.


Legal recourse is beyond the grasp of many aggrieved employees. More specifically, employees who seek justice for racial discrimination in the workplace may find themselves in an unenviable position. They are often abandoned in the chasm between the stated purposes of anti-discrimination laws and the limited ways that those laws may actually operate in practice. The laws may not offer sufficient remedies for the hardships the employees have endured. That is, if any remedies are even available at all. Many employees who have been discriminated against find that the law actually offers no sufficient remedies. Even when remedies are available, employees must often overcome apparent insurmountable obstacles to get their cases heard.

Racial discrimination in the workplace mirrors that which exists in the larger society. Therefore, it has the power to impede employees’ opportunities for advancement; deny employees the security of income stability; and cause employees significant emotional distress. Employees who are racial minorities, in other words non-white employees, and have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace often find that justice is beyond their reach. 

Racial discrimination in the workplace mirrors that which exists in the larger society.

Title VII (and similar state and local laws) is designed to protect employees in certain “protected classes” from unlawful discrimination. But legal recourse still remains beyond the grasp of many minority employees. This disturbing observation points to the need for employee-centred reforms in employment law. 

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About the Author

Phillis H. Rambsy is a partner with the Spiggle Law Firm, which has offices in Arlington, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Nashville, Tennessee. Her legal practice focuses on workplace law where she represents employees in matters of wrongful termination and employment discrimination including racial discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and other family-care issues such as caring for a sick child or an elderly parent. To learn more, visit: https://www.spigglelaw.com/team-member/phillis-rambsy/# or connect via Twitter or Instagram: @blackbellesouth


1. For a discussion of the “motivating factor” standard see E.E.O.C v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 2028 (June 1, 2015).  The Court in this case notes that Title VII prohibit making a protected characteristic (i.e. race, religion, gender) a “motivating factor” in an employment decision. This case is a religious discrimination case involving the refusal to make accommodations for an employee’s religious practices.  However, because Title VII includes prohibitions against racial and religious discrimination, the standards would be the same in a racial discrimination case brought pursuant to Title VII.

2. See “New Study Examines Racial Patterns of Lawyer Use in Employment Discrimination Cases”, www.americanbarfoundation.org/news/4023.

3. Myrick, Amy, Nelson, Robert L,  & Nielson, Laura Beth (Fall 2012). “Race and Representation: Racial Disparities in Legal Representation for Employment Civil Rights Plaintiffs” N.Y.U. Journal of Legislation & Public Policy.  15(3): 705-758.4.

4. Id. at 736

5. Id.

6. Id. at 743-744

7. Id. 745-746

8See Rhode, Deborah L. (2015, May 27). “Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that.”  Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/27/law-is-the-least-diverse-profession-in-the-nation-and-lawyers-arent-doing-enough-to-change-that/?utm_term=.0f8a9e4f1f71

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.