Reverse discrimination occurs when a group generally favored or considered the majority is treated less advantageously in favor of a minority group. In other words, reverse discrimination may occur when men — traditionally a majority and favored group — are discriminated against in favor of women. Such discrimination may also occur when Caucasians are treated less favorably than non-Caucasians.
Within the United States and many other countries, there is a long history of discrimination against certain races or classes of people. In order to right those wrongs and create a more equal society, civil rights legislation has been passed in various forms. In the United States, for example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin and color.
As a result of an increased focus on non-discrimination and on the potential penalties associated with disobeying civil rights rules, in some settings, minority groups have come to be favored over the traditional majority groups that enjoyed preferential treatment. In addition, other rules and laws, such as affirmative action, have been passed in which those groups traditionally discriminated against are given certain preference under the law. Some argue that this type of behavior is reverse discrimination.
For example, if a man and women score exactly the same on a test to become a manager, the woman may be hired over the man simply because of her status as a woman and the fact that there are not as many women in the field as men. Some argue that this is reverse discrimination. Under the law, however, such a decision would be perfectly legal, even if it is discriminatory against the male candidate.
Certain types of reverse discrimination have been deemed unconstitutional, however. For example, in a 1997 case titled Gratz v. Bollinger, Jennifer Gratz applied to the University of Michigan law school. Her application was rejected due to her status as a Caucasian, while less qualified African American candidates were admitted to the school. Under the Michigan system for admission, numerical points values were assigned to students to determine admission, and African American students were awarded a high number of points in this system, resulting in a disproportionate advantage in gaining entrance to the school.
The court ruled that, while affirmative action is perfectly legal and taking race into account is also legal, Michigan's behavior rose to the level of reverse discrimination because the school had "protected" seats for minority candidates. In other words, this ruling held that specific quotas, in which certain spots or jobs are exclusively open to a minority race, were not permitted under the law. While this form of discrimination aimed to right historical wrongs, it was still deemed too discriminatory to pass muster under equal protection rules found in the Constitution.