What is reverse race discrimination?

The most common cases of race discrimination in the workplace involve discrimination against minorities—for example, an employee being fired because he is black. However, are there cases where an employee is discriminated against for being white? Is that type of discrimination prohibited?

In Texas, the default rule is that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. This is called employment-at-will. However, certain federal and state statutes place limitations on the employment-at-will doctrine by prohibiting employment discrimination, preventing employers from basing their employment decisions—hiring, firing, promoting, and paying—on an employee belonging to a protected class.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, race is a protected class. Under that Act, an employee is protected from employment discrimination because of his race. Title VII is not limited to discrimination against minorities—discrimination against a white employee is still discrimination based on race.

Discrimination against a majority race is often called reverse race discrimination. While, technically, reverse race discrimination is the exact same as race discrimination, it is thought of as “reverse” discrimination because most discrimination cases involve minorities as the victims of the discrimination based on race. In fact, less than two percent of the cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involve discrimination against white employees.

Allegations of reverse race discrimination commonly arise in light of affirmative action plans. While Title VII was designed to prevent all race discrimination, affirmative action plans are plans or policies that favor minorities—they are goals and measures of equality in the workplace. However, race quotas are illegal and prohibited by Title VII. An affirmative action plan might be designed to attract more minority workers or level the playing field among all employees.

For example, in United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld an employer’s voluntary affirmative action plan that was designed to make black employees comprise one-half of an on-the-job training program. A white worker who had been passed over for the training program in favor a less senior black employee sued the employer claiming that the affirmative action plan was race discrimination under Title VII. The Court found that the employer’s voluntary affirmative action plan—as opposed to a race quota—was not forbidden by Title VII.

The main argument against affirmative action plans is that Title VII should be applied equally to all races. However, those in favor of affirmative action plans argue that Title VII is meant to protect and promote mainly minorities, and affirmative action plans effectively carry out that goal.