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Being the only member of a protected class isn’t direct evidence of discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

While being the only Hispanic, black or woman in a workplace may be uncomfortable, it doesn’t show that your employer practices discrimination. It takes more—such as statistical proof that the local labor pool includes other members of the employee’s protected class and that the organization employs a disproportionately lower number than should be on the payroll.

In other words, hiring the first Hispanic, black or female employee won’t immediately open your organization up for discrimination lawsuits.

Recent case: Maria Correa worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections at an adult transitional facility where inmates were placed before release. Correa was the only Hispanic employee at the center.

Correa was fired for breaking numerous workplace rules—including showing up after hours visibly intoxicated and failing to report her own arrest. She alleged race discrimination. As direct proof of anti-Hispanic animosity, she pointed out that she was the only Hispanic on staff.

The court rejected her claim. It said it takes more than being the only member of a protected class to taint any discipline with discrimination. Instead, Correa would have to bring in statistical evidence to show that Hispanics were underrepresented at the facility, given their presence in the larger work pool. Without this additional evidence, being the only Hispanic meant nothing. (Correa v. Illinois Department of Corrections, No. 05-C-3791, ND IL, 2007)

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