What laws prohibit race discrimination?

Can you be fired because of your race? Can your employer pay you less because you’re a minority? Are there any legal protections for employees from racism in the workplace?

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.

At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents employment discrimination based on race. At the state level, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act also prevents employment discrimination based on race.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Federal prohibition on employment discrimination began with an Executive Order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that prohibited discrimination in federal government contractors. However, until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, private employees had no legal recourse if they were adversely affected by race discrimination in the workplace.

Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on race covers hiring, firing, promotion, and payment practices. Just as Title VII prevents an employer from firing an employee because of his race, so too does it prevent an employer from paying that employee less because of his race. However, Title VII only covers employees and not independent contractors. Who is and is not an employee depends on whether the employer has the right to control how the worker performs his job and the economic realities of the worker’s dependence on his employee.

Texas Commission on Human Rights Act

Texas has adopted the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) as a state version of federal employment statutes. The TCHRA protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information. Under the TCHRA, an employee has 180 days to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.