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Is Jim Crow Rearing His Ugly Head Again?

The Case

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – the federal appellate court for Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin and one of the country’s thirteen federal appellate courts – has decided that an employer may segregate its employees based upon their race so long as there is not sufficient harm associated with the segregation, such as a reduction in pay, benefits or job responsibilities. In U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AutoZone, Inc., et al.   Read the Seventh Circuit’s decision here:

AutoZone was assigning its African-American employees to a store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and assigning its Hispanic employees to a store in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. The court found that AutoZone was not violating federal civil rights laws by segregating its employees between different stores based upon their race because there was not sufficient harm to those employees as a result of the segregation. Unfortunately, this decision wasn’t made in 1896 or even 1954. It was made in 2017.

Jim Crow Image

The History

In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States held that racial segregation in public facilities was legal as long as the separate facilities were equal in quality. This was a legal theory known as “separate but equal,” but in practice it was more commonly referred to as “Jim Crow.” Then, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation and the “separate but equal” doctrine was illegal in public education. The Court reasoned that segregation was inherently harmful, and thus, separate could never truly be equal. Ten years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination in employment, public accommodations and government programs. Jim Crow was all but dead.

The Problem

The Seventh Circuit, in deciding that separate can be equal under the Civil Rights Act, has neglected to acknowledge segregation’s immutable degradation to those subject to it and has allowed room for Jim Crow to breathe again. To be segregated based on your race at work is degrading and harmful, regardless of whether that segregation is accompanied by a reduction in pay or not. The dissent – the judges who disagreed with the ruling majority of judges on the court – noted that fact when the case was up for rehearing, as well as the fact that segregating employees between different facilities based upon race denies them the job opportunity of working at particular facilities, which is a tangible harm to employees sufficient to support a finding of a violation of federal civil rights law. Read the Petition for Rehearing En Banc here: 

There are two points here: First, racial segregation is wrong in and of itself, and it should not be tolerated in a civilized community, much less under the law. And second, civil rights are not won but must be continually fought for. Countless people fought for them over the life of this great nation; but, civil rights can be eroded, as we see from this decision, and so we must continue to fight for them. If you have been the victim of workplace segregation or racial discrimination, stand up and fight for what is right.