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What Emerging Multiracial Plaintiff Cases Suggest About Employment Discrimination Law

Beginning in 2000, the United States Census Bureau began allowing respondents to choose more than one racial category. Following that census, 2.4 percent of the U.S. population identified themselves as multiracial. In the 2010 census, that number increased to 2.9 percent. There is speculation that the multiracial population in the United States may have been underestimated and the number of those who identify as such will continue to grow.

These statistics are significant due, in part, to the controversy surrounding the impact of multiracial identity on employment discrimination lawsuits. Employers in Florida should understand the background and implications of the current controversy.

GNC Discrimination Lawsuit

To understand the issue, consider the case of Richmond v. General Nutrition Centers, in which plaintiff Marlon Hattimore claimed racial discrimination. Hattmore, who was hired as a sales associate at General Nutrition Centers (GNC) in 2004, claims a regional manager visited his location and suggested that he be fired because there were too many black people working in the store. Upon being informed that Hattmore was biracial, the regional manager decided not to fire him and began to address him with greater civility.

Hattmore was eventually transferred to another location and promoted to the position of store manager. However, he was still subjected to workplace hostility and was paid less than two subordinate employees who were white. The regional manager continued to make racially charged comments and forced Hattmore to fire a black employee. Hattmore was eventually fired from his position, without explanation, and replaced with a white employee.

Hattmore and three other former GNC employees, black men from Jamaica and Ghana, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company. The court denied GNC's request to dismiss the claims and a favorable settlement was reached. While this result was a victory for Hattmore, some scholars take issue with the complication caused by his biracial identity.

Multiracial Identity Controversy

Some concern has been expressed over the court's lack of elaboration regarding multiracial identity in discrimination cases. Certain scholars take issue with the fact that Hattmore was lumped in with plaintiffs who were solely black and the courts treated him as black despite his biracial identity.

The facts of the case and the resulting settlement show that these concerns are unfounded. The discrimination occurred based on a general lack of "whiteness," and did not depend on whether the victims were wholly or partially "black." A focus on the percentage of "blackness" in Hattmore's ancestry has no impact on whether the discrimination occurred. Therefore, it is not relevant to the case.

The Bottom Line

There is no evidence that the growing number of employees who identify as multiracial should create unique challenges to future equality pursuits. These cases are almost always based on white privilege and discrimination caused by "non-whiteness." Complicating it further due to mixed ancestry simply creates a distraction from the real issue at hand.

The laws that are currently in place are sufficient. As more multiracial discrimination cases come to light, they only serve as proof of the need to continue addressing the issue of race supremacy. It's likely that anti-discrimination laws will continue to be strictly enforced, regardless of the specifics of the victim's exact racial profile.

Protecting Yourself from Discrimination Suits

Employers can protect themselves from potential lawsuits by avoiding discrimination against any employee, for any reason. All employees in a position of power should be warned about taking action that could be construed as discrimination. It's recommended that you adopt and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior and immediately address any accusations of impropriety. Doing so will set a precedent and could protect you if an accusation were to arise.

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