Legal Dictionary

reverse discrimination

Definition of reverse discrimination


reverse discrimination (uncountable)

  1. (law, ethics, public policy) The policy or practice of discriminating against members of a designated group which has in the past unfairly received preferential treatment in social, legal, educational, or employment situations, with the intention of benefiting one or more other groups (such as racial, disabled, or gender groups) that have previously been discriminated against.

    * 1965, "Statutes: Sex & VII," Time, 9 July:
    In one instance, Title VII authorizes reverse discrimination. The act gives employers ranging from Minnesota wild-rice farmers to New Mexico electronics manufacturers the option of hiring only American Indians.

    * 2002, "Why Affirmative Action Does Little Harm to White Students," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 36, p. 21:
    Alan Bakke at the University of California At Davis Medical School, Karen Hopwood at the law school of the University of Texas, and Jennifer Gratz at the University of Michigan all have argued successfully in court that they were the victims of reverse discrimination because blacks were given preferential treatment in the admissions process at these schools.

Usage notes

  • Depending on the jurisdiction, reverse discrimination may sometimes have a connotation of illegality.
  • Reverse discrimination sometimes has the connotation of involving numerical quotas for designated groups in employment and education.

See also

Further reading

Reverse discrimination is a controversial term referring to discrimination against members of a dominant or majority group, including the city or state, or in favor of members of a minority or historically disadvantaged group. Groups may be defined in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, or other factors. This discrimination may seek to redress social inequalities where minority groups have been denied access to the same privileges of the majority group. In such cases it is intended to remove discrimination that minority groups may already face. Reverse discrimination may also be used to highlight the discrimination inherent in affirmative action programs.

The law in some countries, such as the UK, draws a distinction between Equality of Provision and Equality of Outcome, recognising that identical treatment may sometimes act to preserve inequality rather than eliminate it. Opponents of this distinction may label it as an example of positive discrimination.

United Kingdom

UK law draws a distinction between Equality of Provision and Equality of Outcome, particularly in respect to disability rights. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 make it clear that treating two people identically may not be sufficient to guarantee that they have been treated equally in law if the task, physical environment or service does not offer them equality of outcome. The law provides for disabled people to request the provision of 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that they are able to access employment, services and the built environment with the same potential as non-disabled people.

In November 2007, David Rosin, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons wrote in the magazine Hospital Doctor: “It is time that someone spoke up concerning the reverse discrimination with respect to merit awards” and saying that "female and ethnic minority consultants are being given preferential treatment to meet artificial quotas".


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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8.     lex causae
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