Employment discrimination is not generally a criminal matter without a further showing that it constitutes a criminal act to deprive someone of their civil rights under color of state law, something that a private employer lacks the capacity to do.
One could imagine a criminal case if, for example, a state's authorized militia refused to accept black residents as employees solely on the basis of race, under a policy, statute, or regulation of the state. But that is a pretty far fetched possibility.
The Supreme Court of Colorado recently concluded, for purposes of its governmental immunity act which bars claims against state and local governments and their employees for intentional torts, except in cases not applicable to an employment discrimination claim, that an employment discrimination claim against a governmental employee was a claim for equitable relief, rather than a tort claim, and hence was outside the scope of the state's governmental immunity act.
Arguably, this is an outcome driven result, and there are many cases that consider employment discrimination claims to be torts in other contexts. But it is a case clearly address the somewhat formalistic issue raised in the question.
The Colorado Supreme Court announced its opinion on December 21, 2020, in a long-anticipated case involving the interplay between the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), section 24-34-405, C.R.S. (2020) and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), section 24-10-106, C.R.S. (2020) in Elder v. Williams, 2020 CO 88. The syllabus to the court’s 4-3 opinion states:
This case principally requires the supreme court to decide whether
claims against a governmental entity for compensatory relief under the
Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (“CADA”), section 24-34-405, C.R.S.
(2020), are barred by operation of the Colorado Governmental Immunity
Act (“CGIA”), section 24-10-106, C.R.S. (2020). The court is also
asked to decide whether subsection 24-34-405(8)(g) of CADA, which
allows for compensatory damages against “the state,” should be read to
include political subdivisions of the state of Colorado and whether
front pay is compensatory in nature, lies in tort, and is therefore
barred by the CGIA. The court now concludes that (1) claims for
compensatory relief under CADA are not claims for “injuries which lie
in tort or could lie in tort” for purposes of the CGIA and therefore
public entities are not immune from CADA claims under the CGIA; (2)
“the state,” as used in subsection 24-34-405(8)(g), includes political
subdivisions of the state and thus political subdivisions are not
immune from claims for compensatory damages based on intentional
unfair or discriminatory employment practices; and (3) front pay is
equitable and not compensatory in nature under CADA, and age
discrimination and retaliation claims seeking front pay do not lie and
could not lie in tort for CGIA purposes.
The dissent argued that the damages remedies afforded by CADA are remedies that “lie in tort or could lie in tort,” bringing CADA claims within the protective orbit of the CGIA. The General Assembly could, of course, have foreseen this potential issue when it enacted CADA, but remained silent about whether CGIA would apply to CADA claims.
The fact that a different ruling would have rendered a state statute barring employment discrimination by governmental agencies enacted after the governmental immunity act, no doubt influenced the court to reach this somewhat strained interpretation.
This doesn't necessarily imply that a different classification might not be applied for a different purpose, e.g. the application of the pre-judgment interest statute, or statute of limitations classification. American courts frequently employ the same legal term in an inconsistent manner in different contexts. Legal terms in U.S. law do not mean the same thing in all circumstances.