Reverse Discrimination: Meaning and Definition

It is normally referred to as "reverse discrimination" when members of a majority or historically privileged group—such as white people or men—are intentionally treated unfairly because of their race, gender, age, or another protected trait. Usually, allegations of this nature relate to a job or education.

On occasion, the phrase is also used to disparage initiatives like affirmative action that aim to support minorities and fight inequality. Despite the fact that the phrase "reverse discrimination" is not officially mentioned in federal civil rights laws, these lawsuits are typically filed as discrimination claims in accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws.

Meaning of Reverse Discrimination

The term "reverse discrimination" refers to circumstances where a member or members of a majority are discriminated against on the basis of a protected factor, such as race or gender, even though this is not officially addressed by federal law.

White people who are prejudiced in favour of a racial minority are frequent examples of this form of discrimination. Another instance may be a male suing an employer because he believes a woman received preferential treatment at work because of her gender.

Affirmative action and other diversity initiative programmes aim to "level the playing field" in the workplace and in educational institutions. Despite their historical grounds, they may potentially be in violation of discriminatory legislation.

The Law on Reverse Discrimination in the Workplace

Courts have had difficulty handling a variety of discrimination-related matters, including those deemed to be "reverse discrimination."

Employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, or national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regardless of the identity of the victim of the discrimination. Additionally, programmes and policies that might have a "disparate impact" or a negative impact on members of a protected class are not permitted to be developed by employers under Title VII.

However, in discrimination lawsuits involving a majority of plaintiffs (white, male, etc.), courts have construed this and related state legislation in various ways. The courts have accepted some forms of discrimination against women and historically marginalised groups like minorities, but others have not. This legal matter is still debatable.

Reverse discrimination claims are difficult to prove, just like those made by individuals from historically underrepresented groups. The burden of proving real employer discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or another unlawful reason rests with the plaintiff. Additionally, the claimant must demonstrate the following −

  • Evidence indicating the plaintiff belongs to a protected class (such as being of a particular race, sex, or religion),

  • Similar employees not included in the class of the lawsuit received better treatment than the plaintiff,

  • Data proving the employer's discrimination against historically privileged or majority groups, and

  • If it was considered in a decision about a promotion, the plaintiff did the job satisfactorily.

Can I Be Discriminated Against for Being a White Male

Yes. In the United States, reverse discrimination is becoming a bigger issue. But from a cultural standpoint, reverse discrimination is frequently downplayed or overlooked.

It's crucial for the victim to be aware of his rights and seek clarification if they are being unfairly singled out or denied job benefits inside the government due to their race or gender.

It in no way prevents a white male who has experienced employment discrimination from using the same legislation to voice his concerns about prejudice. It is advisable to speak with a lawyer who specialises in reverse discrimination in these situations. These are significant cases, yet they are rarely discussed. It can be beneficial to voice your worries during a private meeting so that you can make decisions going forward.

Reverse Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and the Supreme Court

In the famous Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) decision, when a white medical school candidate challenged a university's use of race in admissions, the U.S. Supreme Court supported the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The Court ruled that while there could be particular quotas based on race or any other single element (such as age, gender, national origin, etc.), race could only be one of several considerations in a college admissions policy.

When white University of Texas applicant Abigail Fisher was turned down for admission in 2008, the Supreme Court addressed another issue with affirmative action. She claimed that she and other white applicants were discriminated against since race was taken into account while evaluating applications. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2016), however, saw the Court rule once more that "the race-conscious admissions programme in use at the time of petitioner's application is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause."

Arguments in two instances where the plaintiffs contested the continued use of affirmative action in college admissions were heard by the Supreme Court in October 2022. In those cases, judgements are anticipated in 2023. The verdicts could have an impact on the use of affirmative action in employment as well, even though the cases solely involved it in the context of education.


Intentional discrimination against members of a majority group, such as white people or men, on the basis of their race, religion, gender, age, or another protected trait is known as "reverse discrimination." Reverse discrimination happens frequently in practically every community, even though most individuals may not be aware of it.

Affirmative action is another name for it, which is occasionally used to advance minority rights, particularly where inequality is involved. If discrimination occurs in a society, it usually occurs against members of a minority group or those who are deemed to be below average. There have been campaigns and movements to advance equal opportunities and rights for everyone throughout modern history, regardless of the group they belong to. However, there are also instances where reverse discrimination is used, which results in prejudice towards members of majority groups and usually works in the minority's favour.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. What is the principle of reverse discrimination?

Ans. When a Member State treats its own citizens less favourably than those whose circumstances are covered by EU legislation, this is referred to as reverse discrimination.

Q2. What is unfair discrimination?

Ans. The Employment Equity Act deals with unfair discrimination. Race, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, and disability are a few examples of this. Direct or indirect discrimination is possible. The Employment Equity Act is in effect, and these issues are heard by the Labour Court.

Q3. What is perceptive discrimination?

Ans. When someone is treated unfairly because it is assumed that they possess a particular protected feature under the Equality Act 2010, whether or not it is true, it is referred to as perceived discrimination.

Updated on: 11-May-2023


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