Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week should have caused us all to reflect upon the many advancements in civil rights our country has made in recent years. The following is a short list of some civil rights milestone that have occurred during the past 75 years:
- President Harry Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 in 1948 which provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."
In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education which expanded civil rights further. In
Brown, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional any state law establishing separate public schools for white and African-American students.
- In 1964, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- The Voting Rights Act was enacted into law in 1965 which sought to eliminate widespread discriminatory voting practices that led to the disenfranchisement of many African-Americans.
- Justice Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in 1967.
- In 1967, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional state laws which prohibited interracial marriages in Loving v. Virginia.
The civil rights movement perhaps culminated with the presidency of Barack Obama. In 2008, President Obama became the first African-American President and was reelected to a second term in 2012. Quite fittingly, President Obama took his ceremonial oath of office on January 21, 2013 - the same day this country celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr, Day.
Despite the progress we have made over the years, much work still needs to be done. Sadly, racism exists in today's society in almost all facets of life, especially the workplace. Because of the importance of one's income and the benefits they receive through their employment, the workplace is one place in particular where individuals should not be judged by the color of the skin or by which god they choose to worship. All individuals deserve to be evaluated by their achievements in the workplace and ability to perform their assigned tasks. In a perfect world free of discrimination, this would be true. However, as we have unfortunately witnessed through the many lawsuits our firm has handled on behalf of workers discriminated against or harassed by their employers or co-workers, we live in a far from perfect world.
Too frequently, race or some other protected characteristic plays a role in an adverse employment action. Additionally, it is not uncommon for co-workers or employers to create a hostile working environment for someone because of that individual's race or color. Such action is illegal and actionable under the law. Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many state counterparts, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, or sex. These laws further make it illegal for an employer to maintain a hostile working environment for its employees when the harassment creating the working environment is attributable to race, color, creed, national origin, or sex.
If you believe you have been discriminated against on account of your race, color, creed, national origin, or sex - fight back. If you witness such discrimination in your workplace, do not sit silent. Speak up. We all should strive for a workplace free of discrimination and stand up against intolerance and bigotry.