The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines race discrimination this way: “treating someone (an employee or applicant) unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of characteristics associated with race.” An associated issue occurs when one’s skin color/complexion is the cause of negative treatment.

Harassment is also unlawful and can include offensive/derogatory remarks, racial slurs and/or displaying offensive symbols. Teasing or offhand comments, when it occurs regularly or is serious, can lead to a hostile or offensive work environment. Employment policies that have a disparate negative impact on one group of people may also be unlawful. How do you connect the dots between negative employment actions and your race or complexion?

Limited diversity of teachers in Michigan schools

An April white paper drafted on behalf of the Michigan Department of Education looked at the longitudinal trend in staffing by race/ethnicity. Between the 2012-2013 school year and the 2016-2017 school years, the number of African American/Black teachers decreased by 18 percent.

African American/Black teachers are now only 5.9 percent of all teachers across the state. Other minority groups, such as Hispanic or Latino at 1.2 percent, have even lower representation. Minority students make up about a third of enrollment.

Research finds that when a low-income Black/African American student has a Black/African American teacher, he or she is 39 percent more likely to graduate from high school. While teaching as a profession has numerous barriers to entry, harassment and negative experiences could also be behind the decline.

An individual example – one of the only

For one black teacher in the Michigan school system “intolerable” working conditions forced him to resign. He had taught middle school math for nearly 15 years receiving tenure and positive evaluations.

In 2011, Michigan passed new laws that reformed teacher tenure. Teachers who receive an ineffective rating for three consecutive years are fired. The law also required improvement plans for any teacher who received lower ratings.

After a transfer to another school to teach elementary math, things changed for this black teacher. Even though he received proficient rating in most of the 26 domains in annual evaluations, he was rated basic. This resulted in performance improvement plans and much closer monitoring.

Over the past 10 years, less than two percent of the teachers in his district have been black. At the same time, only one to two percent of teachers received minimally effective or ineffective ratings. Correlation is far from causation, but when combined with individual experience it can help to bolster claims of racial-based discrimination and harassment.

If the constant toll of daily micro aggression and seemingly unfair actions makes going into work a daily struggle, get legal counsel. There are remedies available that can protect your reputation and career.