Eliminating racial segregation remains one of the great achievements of the Civil Rights movement. To ensure that employees do not face separation by race or color in the workplace, federal civil rights law places certain restrictions on employers so that they do not unjustly separate minority employees and treat them with less respect than white employees.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes ways in which Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids workplace racial separation. An employer cannot physically isolate a minority employee from other employees or from contact from customers. Also, employers cannot keep a minority worker from particular positions in a workplace hierarchy. Barring African-Americans or Latinos from managerial positions, for instance, would constitute a civil rights violation.
Sometimes workplace segregation happens in more subtle ways. An employer might move minority workers to specific work environments or geographic locations that just happen to have a large minority population. Some employers might reorient a workplace so that certain jobs are usually held by white workers while others are predominantly taken up by minorities.
Title VII also addresses racial classifications in job applications. An employer cannot make race or color a qualification to hold a job, but employers may try to get around this through less obvious means. Discriminating employers might exclude certain applicants if they come from a specific area code where a large concentration of racial minorities resides. While some workers might not recognize racial coding at first, an employer may face legal penalties if authorities determine such coding exists.
This does not mean that any inquiry into the race of an applicant is illegal, but if it leads to discrimination, the racial inquiry may help prove the existence of a civil rights violation. Even if racial discrimination occurs in a subtle manner, civil rights law allows wronged workers recourse in fighting for their rights.