“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Discrimination is real. Denying systemic racism, doesn’t make it nonexistent. In 2020, we’ve seen a resurgence of people actively fighting against race discrimination in large numbers. Police violence against Black Americans reignited a fuse. Protestors have taken their voices to the streets, have launched social media campaigns, and have organized to fight injustice where it thrives with hopes of real change.
Racial injustices can permeate every aspect of a person’s life. It can be four Black, young adults being pulled over by the police when they’ve done nothing wrong, only to have an officer say, “where are you coming from” and “can I search your vehicle.” It may be realizing you are being followed in a department store. It may be someone saying, “yeah, I have a problem with that Black teacher.” It can even be seen in the hiring, firing, and promotional practices of employers.
Employment attorneys – working for employees – fight against discrimination every day. Discrimination in the workplace is not limited to race discrimination. An illogical justification for wage disparities between a man and a woman doesn’t erase sexism. Failing to train an older worker in the same manner as younger workers doesn’t validate ageist employment practices. Presuming that someone with a disability can’t perform a particular job is disability discrimination.
In employment discrimination cases, the greatest assets a plaintiff can have are witnesses. Sadly, in many cases witnesses are elusive. For the most part, it is not that they don’t exist, it is that they don’t always come forward. Do they just not want to give their time to help someone else? Do they really not remember? Did they really not see anything? Is it fear that holds them back? There are myriad reasons that witnesses will give for not getting involved in another person’s employment dispute.
In employment cases, getting witnesses to voluntarily cooperate presents its own unique challenge. Unlike a car accident case, where the witness may be an uninterested pedestrian on the street, in employment discrimination cases the best potential witnesses likely work for the same employer. The coworker that saw the entire incident still collects a paycheck from the employer, has a mortgage to pay, and children at home. With that comes a real fear of retaliation.
If you are a witness to discrimination the law provides remedies when employers retaliate. Our employment lawyers are available for consultations to discuss the law and protections against unlawful retaliation.
Each witness has to decide if they have the courage to speak up when they see discrimination.
When you see discrimination in the workplace, will you speak up? Discrimination in the workplace can touch any employee. The employer that does nothing about complaints of race discrimination, likely does nothing when there are complaints of age, sex, disability, or religious discrimination.
Change only happens when people speak up and push for it. The greater the numbers the more potential for effectiveness. However, it must start somewhere. Silence accomplishes nothing, but it will be remembered by those that knew you could have come forward.