The Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA) prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race or color (VA Stat. Sec. 2.2-3900 et seq.).
Employers with 6 to 14 employees may be sued in a general district court or circuit court for discharging an employee on the basis of race or color (VA Stat. Sec. 2.2-2639).
Employers that are not covered by the VHRA have been sued for wrongful discharge for violations of public policy unrelated to the VHRA (Rowan v. Tractor Supply Co., 559 S.E.2d 709 (Va. 2002)).
Federal law. Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants or employees on the basis of race or color. It also prohibits unlawful racial harassment.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employer provided an insufficient response to an employee's complaints of gender and racial harassment (EEOC v. Cent. Wholesalers, Inc., 573 F. 3d 167 (4th Cir. 2009)). The employee in this case had complained to supervisors about her coworkers' frequent use of degrading, gender-specific comments and racial epithets. Although the employer took steps in response to the complaints, most of its efforts were ineffective in stopping the offensive conduct. An alleged harasser continued to view pornography in the workplace, and the nature of the gender and racial harassment became more severe after the employee began complaining to her coworkers and supervisors. Based on the evidence, the court ruled that the former employee was entitled to proceed to a jury trial.
Practical tip: When an employer determines that harassment has occurred, it must take steps that ...