Both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of race. However, that doesn't mean that the only type of discrimination prohibited is the type that pits one race against the other. Even some types of discrimination within one racial group may run afoul of the law, if the discrimination is on the basis of race.
In a case that illustrates some of the complexities of employment discrimination law, a federal court recently ruled in favor of an African American worker who sued her former employer after she said a supervisor, who identifies himself as black and Hispanic, subjected her to race-based harassment. According to the woman's complaint, the man repeatedly used profanity and racial epithets including the n-word when speaking to her. The court found that such language amounted to illegal harassment even though the supervisor and the employee are both black.
According to the woman's lawsuit, she was fired after she repeatedly complained about the harassment.
Under anti-discrimination laws, employers can't legally fire, refuse to hire or retaliate against a worker because of race. However, these laws also prohibit certain kinds of harassment on the basis of race even when it does not result in the employee being fired or being the victim of some other tangible employment action. If the harassment is persistent and widespread enough, it can create a hostile or offensive work environment, which is prohibited by law.
Minnesota workers who have been harassed or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace should get help understanding how the laws apply to their unique circumstances. It's important to fight back against illegal discrimination.
Source: CNN, "Black boss's n-word rant to black employee costs him, nonprofit $280,000," Erinn Cawthon and Kristina Sgueglia, Sept. 4, 2013