Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Is Color Discrimination And How Do I Prove It?

Even if your harasser is the same race, you can still complain about discrimination if they’re biased due to your color. Basically, color means the shade of your skin. If someone of your same race favors lighter or darker skinned employees, then that could be color discrimination. If your employer has 15 or more employees, then color discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Evidence: how do you prove discrimination based on color? Biased comments by supervisors could be evidence that their decision was because of your color. Referring to you as being too tanned, too pale, or similar statements could show that they engaged in color discrimination.

Most supervisors aren’t that obvious. You can look at others treated differently under the same circumstances. If mostly darker people were kept on in a layoff and lighter employees are targeted, color discrimination might be involved.

Harassment: Anything that doesn’t affect you in the wallet is in the category of harassment. Your employer can’t make you miserable due to your color to try to get you to quit. You can’t be called names and made fun of due to your color either.

What to do?: If it’s harassment, you have to report it first under the company’s policy for reporting harassment and give them a chance to fix the situation. Only if they don’t fix it or if the harassment continues can you file a charge of discrimination with EEOC or your state agency.

If it’s an adverse employment action like denial of a promotion, demotion, suspension without pay, or termination/layoff, you must file a charge of discrimination with EEOC or your state agency before you can sue.

Donna’s tips:

c. If you’re presented with a severance agreement and think you’re targeted for layoff due to your color, contact an employment lawyer. They might be able to negotiate a better severance package for you.

d. Even if the boss is your same color, that doesn’t mean they can’t discriminate based on color. If they prefer lighter skinned employees over darker ones, or darker over lighter, it still might be color discrimination.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.