Skin Color Discrimination: How It Differs With Race Discrimination

skin color discrimination

One of the most common forms of workplace discrimination is on the basis of one’s race and/or skin color. This form of employment maltreatment can happen in any aspect of employment, from hiring to termination. Fortunately, employees are protected by various federal and state laws that prohibited this kind of discrimination. Under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), covered employers are not allowed to discriminate, harass, or retaliate against any employee or applicant on the basis of race or color.

In these laws, covered employers are likewise prohibited to subject employees and applicants based on racial stereotypes. They can’t also discriminate on someone who is married to a person of a different race, as well as on someone who is known to be associated with an ethnic organization or group. Job policies that are neutral on the surface but disproportionately exclude minorities are also not allowed.

Race vs. Color Discrimination

Title VII explicitly states that discrimination on the basis of one’s race also includes one’s skin color, as well as texture of hair, or any other certain physical characteristic linked to one’s race, is illegal. Though race and color often overlap and are usually regarded as the same thing, they are not necessarily synonymous. Employment laws, like Title VII and the FEHA, distinguish these two terms as different. Notably, both laws have a separate protected category for “color” discrimination.

Basically, skin color discrimination in the workplace occurs when an individual is discriminated, harassed, or retaliated against based on his or her lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of his or her skin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title VII, read the term “color” as pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone. This form of discrimination can happen to anyone, even if the harasser or discriminatory is of the same race or ethnicity as the one being discriminated, harassed, or retaliated against in any aspect of employment.

Explaining color discrimination even more

A common example of discrimination because of skin color is this: suppose an employer decides not to promote a qualified employee and instead goes for an inexperienced one. If the qualified employee is an African-American, and the inexperienced one is white, then it is considered discrimination on the basis of race. However, if the qualified employee is a darker-skinned African-American and the inexperienced one is a lighter-skinned African-American, then it is deemed as color discrimination because the employer favors the former over the latter, despite both being of the same race.

Seeking legal representation

This form of discrimination can oftentimes be hard to determine, given the fact that is often associated with workplace bias on the basis of race. However, an employee or applicant who was discriminated against because of skin color can always seek legal guidance and representation from a workplace discrimination attorney. It might be challenge for the victim, but a lawyer can help figure out whether there is a case for either race or color discrimination.


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