Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 8:00 AM EDT
Here's the definition of race discrimination, straight from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Website:
Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).See, no mention that you have to be a certain race in order to be either the victim or perpetrator of racial discrimination. Just that you can't be treated "unfavorably" because of personal characteristics associated with race. Keep in mind that it is not illegal for a supervisor to be a world-class jerk, as long as she's an equal-opportunity jerk. If the majority of the people your manager works with are white, and she's truly just a jerk, it would make sense that the majority of her victims would be white. The question is, does she treat African American employees differently than she treats white employees? If that is the case, then she's illegally discriminating.
Where do you go from here? There are consequences for every choice you make. Here are your options:
Complain loudly to everyone you know. Unsurprisingly, this is the option taken by most people. They complain and whine and don't do a darn thing about it. This has advantages, because the more bitter you are, the fewer friends you'll have. No friends means you don't have to waste time and money shopping for presents at holidays and birthdays. Make sure you blame this incident for every problem in your future. (I had a woman threaten a lawsuit because if we hadn't laid her off three years prior, she would not have become a real estate agent and would not be in dire financial straights because of falling housing prices. Really. She was serious. It was our fault she couldn't sell any houses.) Even though we HR types prefer to make people unhappy (Thank you for calling Human Resources, how can I not help you today?), I cannot recommend this option.
Just move on and forget it. This is a very realistic option. You ended up in a terrible situation where you had both an illegally discriminating supervisor and a company that let her do it. Go search for a new job. Secure references from others at that company and hope for the best. Apply for unemployment and fight it if it's denied. While this is not emotionally satisfying in the present, it's the option that is most likely to lower your blood pressure over the long run. Let it go. When applying for new jobs, don't complain about why you were let go. File a complaint with the EEOC. You have only 180 days in which to do this, so you need to make this decision quickly. If you go this route, I would get the other people who have been terminated to file with you. Multiple complaints will be more likely to prod the EEOC into action.
If they elect to take the case, it won't be an instantaneous success for you. It make not even turn out to be a success at all. It's quite possible that everyone's initial take on this will be that you are the racist one and did not wish to work for an African American boss. You can fight and win, but make no mistake: It will be a fight. It will be emotionally draining. A winning result may place you right back into the company, but by then everyone will hate you for dragging them through this. I am not telling you not to pursue this option, just know that the experience will be unpleasant, even if you win. Write a formal letter to the CEO of your former company. If your company is large, the CEO most likely has no clue what his staff does to "protect" the company. CEOs have a tendency to freak out over things like this, and you may get action. The action could be an offer of reinstatement, a severance package, an apology, or no response whatsoever.
If you choose to write a letter, make it unemotional and factual. Document the incidents that led up to your termination clearly and succinctly. Bullet-point lists are good for this type of thing. Keep it to one page; a 30-page listing of all her faults will end up in the garbage. Have at least three people read through it, looking for typos and clarity issues. You do not want to come across as a raving lunatic. You want to come across as a person who has the company's best interest at heart and thought the CEO would like to know what is going on. Mention that you intend to file with the EEOC.
I can't guarantee success with these methods, but I can say I'd give the exact same advice to an African American who complained about being discriminated against. Keep that in mind. It's illegal no matter your skin color.