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Racial discrimination

Oregon laws protect you from being discriminated against at work, in housing, and at places that do business with the public.

  • It's illegal to be fired or demoted, paid less, or otherwise treated differently based on your race, color, or national origin.
  • You cannot be treated differently when looking for housing, applying for financing, or in other housing decisions.
  • Your right to go to public places like restaurants, stores, and other public places free from discrimination is protected.

Oregon’s history of racism

While we may think of Oregon as a progressive state, our history is steeped in racism. The territorial legislature passed a Black exclusion law in 1844. When Oregon became a state in 1859 in the run up to the Civil War, the original constitution banned slavery, but it also prohibited Black people from residing here or owning real estate. Black and Chinese people were originally denied the right to vote. In 1923, Oregon prohibited Japanese Americans from owning real property and allowed cities to deny them business licenses. Two decades later, federal internment camps held approximately 4,000 Oregonians of Japanese ancestry, despite their citizenship. More recently, banks and real estate professionals engaged in a racist lending practice known as “redlining” to keep people out of neighborhoods because of race or nationality. The effects of Oregon’s systemic racism are still felt today.

Civil rights legislation
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination on the basis of several protected categories. These categories include religion, sex and national origin, but race and color are listed first and second in the legislation. Title VII of the Act prohibits discrimination in employment and Title II applies to places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and shops. Oregon law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and color (among other protected classes) in compensation and terms, conditions and privileges of employment, and in access to places of public accommodation.

Oregon generally has more expansive protection than federal law. Learn about protected classes and requirements for employers in the FAQ below.

We can help

If you have experienced discrimination, you can file a complaint.

It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you or treat you differently because you make a complaint.

If you’re not sure you need to file a complaint but something feels wrong, you can give us a call. We are here to help.

The law

ORS 659A.103, ORS 659A.030, 659A.403, OAR 839-005-0005

Frequently asked questions

For individuals

What is race?
This is a simple question with no simple answer. It depends to a large degree on perspective and context. Ask ten people for a definition of race and you will likely get ten distinct answers. In general, however, most dictionaries define race as describing one of several very broad categories that are biologically arbitrary yet generally based on ancestral origin and shared physical characteristics (especially skin color). Ethnicity, by contrast, most often describes a person’s cultural identity, which may or may not include a shared language, customs, religious expression, or nationality. The US Census Bureau collects race information based on guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget, which requires at least five categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Native Alaskan, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. “Some Other Race” is also permitted. Interestingly, Hispanic and Middle Eastern are not included. Oregon statutes and administrative rules do not define the term "race", but guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).
What is color?
As we can see from the somewhat loose definition above, race and color are interrelated. That is likely why charging documents coming from our Civil Rights Division and Administrative Prosecution Unit often allege race, color and national origin together in a single case. It is difficult to distinguish, for example, between discrimination against a person because they are African American, Black or Jamaican. Nevertheless, the EEOC defines discrimination based on color as treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.
There's a sign in a shop in my neighborhood that says “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. Do they have a right to exclude someone who happens to be a person of color if they refuse to wear a face covering?
We all have a race and we all have a color, just as we all have a sexual orientation and a marital status. While civil rights legislation was enacted to protect those who have historically faced discrimination and harassment, those laws protect everyone. Our membership in a protected category does not give us greater rights than anyone else. That sign does not give a place of public accommodation the right to exclude customers because of their race or color — those are protected classes. Business owners may also exclude a customer who is rude and disruptive or who does not follow the dress code. Elsewhere, we discuss accommodations for those who cannot wear a face covering because of a disability, but signage does not give businesses a license to discriminate.

For employers

What is race?
This is a simple question with no simple answer. It depends to a large degree on perspective and context. Ask ten people for a definition of race and you will likely get ten distinct answers. In general, however, most dictionaries define race as describing one of several very broad categories that are biologically arbitrary yet generally based on ancestral origin and shared physical characteristics (especially skin color). Ethnicity, by contrast, most often describes a person’s cultural identity, which may or may not include a shared language, customs, religious expression, or nationality. The US Census Bureau collects race information based on guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget, which requires at least five categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Native Alaskan, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. “Some Other Race” is also permitted. Interestingly, Hispanic and Middle Eastern are not included. Oregon statutes and administrative rules do not define the term "race", but guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).
What is color?
As we can see from the somewhat loose definition above, race and color are interrelated. That is likely why charging documents coming from our Civil Rights Division and Administrative Prosecution Unit often allege race, color and national origin together in a single case. It is difficult to distinguish, for example, between discrimination against a person because they are African American, Black or Jamaican. Nevertheless, the EEOC defines discrimination based on color as treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.
I have a sign in my shop that says “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. Do I have a right to exclude someone who happens to be a person of color if they refuse to wear a face covering?
We all have a race and we all have a color, just as we all have a sexual orientation and a marital status. While civil rights legislation was enacted to protect those who have historically faced discrimination and harassment, those laws protect everyone. Our membership in a protected category does not give us greater rights than anyone else. That sign does not give a place of public accommodation the right to exclude customers because of their race or color — those are protected classes. Business owners may also exclude a customer who is rude and disruptive or who does not follow the dress code. Elsewhere, we discuss accommodations for those who cannot wear a face covering because of a disability, but signage does not give businesses a license to discriminate.
Tensions are running hot in our restaurant. We have some kitchen staff who cannot get along and much of it seems to stem from people who like to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts clashing with those who like to wear red caps emblazoned with the “Make America Great Again” slogan. We respect free expression but this situation is getting out of hand. What can we do to restore peace and get people back to work?
There are many protected classes under federal law and many more under Oregon law. Strictly speaking, politics is not one of them. Employers are entitled to run their businesses as they see fit, within the bounds of the law. Ours is a sharply divided society, especially now. One way to keep the peace is to declare workspaces politics-free zones. Employers generally get to make the rules of the workplace within the bounds of the law. They can and should have robust anti-discrimination policies in effect and enforce them. They may also have dress codes that prohibit political slogans on the premises.

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