Race discrimination at work is prohibited by two federal statutes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Both laws prohibit employers from treating employees differently because of their race, and both apply to every aspect of the employment relationship, from hiring to firing. However, if an employee wins a race discrimination lawsuit, the remedies available depend on the statute.
Most states also prohibit race discrimination, and they may provide for different remedies than those discussed below. To find out what your state's law provides, contact your state fair employment practices agency.
If an employee wins a lawsuit for race discrimination under Title VII, the employer can be required to:
Under Title VII, these last two types of damages -- damages for emotional distress (sometimes called "pain and suffering" damages or compensatory damages) and punitive damages -- combined are capped at an amount between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the employer.
An employee who wins a lawsuit under Section 1981 can receive all of the remedies available under Title VII, with one huge difference: There is no cap on the total amount of damages an employee can be awarded for emotional distress and punitive damages. Because these damages often make up the largest share of an employee's award, the opportunity to win unlimited damages prompts many lawyers to file a Section 1981 claim for race discrimination, either instead of or in addition to a Title VII claim.