Can You Sue for Reverse Discrimination?


Jan Reburiano

Recent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts have gone a long way to reducing hostile work environments in the United States. However, some say these initiatives can go too far, resulting in decisions entirely motivated by reverse discrimination. As such, they’re coming under scrutiny and receiving a lot of media attention.

Proving reverse discrimination in the workplace is tough, but not impossible with the right legal help. LegalASAP can connect you with a specialist who knows the employment laws in your area, with no fees required. See if you qualify through the online form below.

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What is Reverse Discrimination?

Reverse discrimination is defined as “discrimination in favor of a traditional protected class.” In other words, it’s a form of discrimination affecting members of a majority instead of a minority.

Examples of reverse discrimination may include:

  • Refusing to hire an applicant due to favoring minority groups based on race
  • Hiring women based on their sex and gender rather than competency
  • Promoting an individual based on their religious affiliations practiced by a minority group

Even though diverse backgrounds may be helpful in the workplace, employment decisions must not be based on a protected class.

How to Prove Reverse Discrimination in the Workplace

You can sue for reverse discrimination if you accurately prove a company’s actions were based on unfair treatment. The burden of proof mostly falls on the plaintiff to prove the following:

  • The plaintiff belongs to a protected class
  • Similar employees, belonging to a different class, receives better treatment
  • Evidence of similar reverse discrimination happening in the past
  • Your treatment did not occur due to poor job performance

Reverse Discrimination Cases in the Supreme Court

The case Groves v. South Bend Community School Corp. is evidence of how difficult it is to connect an employer’s actions to discrimination. William Groves invoked Title VII after getting rejected from a coaching position for a high school in South Bend, Indiana. He claimed the faculty didn’t hire him because of his white racial status.

The court ultimately sided with South Bend because Groves failed to prove their adverse action was racially-motivated. Seabe Gavin, a Black applicant, interviewed much better than Groves according to South Bend. Groves could not prove their decision to hire Gavin was based on his protected class.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action in college admissions in the past, but in 2023, the Court ended university level race-conscious admissions. However, ​the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a reverse discrimination and retaliation case brought by two white police officers in Michigan.

The officers claimed they were demoted and fired in retaliation for complaining about their employer’s diversity initiative. They also alleged double standards in disciplining employees.

The police agency said the former officers were disciplined because of their misconduct during a transfer of another employee. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled in favor of the agency in December 2021.

Examples of Reverse Discrimination

Though proving reverse discrimination is not easy, successful cases have passed through court. An example is the case of Shannon Phillips, a white woman and former Starbucks regional director in Pennsylvania. She was awarded $25.6 million after a jury determined she was fired because of her race.

Likewise, David Duvall, a former Novant Health senior vice president, won a $10 million lawsuit. He sued because he lost his job during a time the company was aiming to diversify its leadership ranks. Two women replaced his position, one of whom is Black. This was a factor cited in the case.

What to Do in Response to Reverse Discrimination

Employers should not implement arbitrary hiring goals or consider protected classes in the selection or termination process. Any hiring practice like a quota should be avoided. Instead, employers should focus recruitment and retention efforts on a diverse pool of candidates.

If you believe you were the victim of wrongful termination or another adverse action based on discrimination, you may wish to contact an employment law attorney and/or file a charge with the EEOC. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency in charge of employment claims in every state.

Employment Discrimination Laws

Federal civil rights laws often pop up in employment discrimination cases. The laws that may be relevant to your particular case include:

  1. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  2. Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  3. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
  4. Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  5. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

The EEOC’s website provides summary information on the types of discriminatory practices covered by these statutes. The laws enforced by the EEOC protect workers from discrimination and retaliation due to protected classes like:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy)
  • National Origin
  • Age discrimination
  • Disability
  • Genetic Information

Find an Attorney to Protect You Against Reverse Discrimination

Any employee illegally fired from their job has the right to seek damages. In this case, you should talk to an experienced employment law attorney right away.

Even if you’re unsure of your status, employment laws change daily. If you have questions about how the law can apply to you, discussing the matter with a legal specialist can be helpful. Depending on your situation, you may even qualify for legal aid for employment disputes.

Contact LegalASAP today to find legal assistance for employees. Our network of trustworthy and experienced attorneys is available to help. Take our free evaluation today to see if you qualify and get the legal representation you require.

Jan Reburiano is a content writer and SEO specialist for law firms focusing on personal injury, disability, employment law, among other practices. He has written and edited numerous articles and created commercial spots for broadcasters that you can find in his LinkedIn. Jan currently lives in Los Angeles, California while writing for clients from around the United States.