Monday, July 06, 2009

LEGAL BRIEF: Why Are You "So Black"?

The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, provides information on anti-discrimination legal proceedings/court rulings, and identifies some of the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. The Legal Brief also provides insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel, as well as to employees who feel they are becoming embroiled in race-related issues at work.

The African diaspora is worldwide. Therefore, there are many groups of people who owe a darker complexion (or curly/thick hair, body type, facial features, etc.) to some connection to Africa.

Although this case is in Puerto Rico, this legal brief is very interesting because it reminds us that it's not just the "blackness" of actual Black folks that comes into question in the workplace. People of other races, particularly those who may be darker in complexion, may also be subjected to race and COLOR bias in the workplace. Color discrimination cases have been steadily rising over the past decade.

In this case, a dark Puerto Rican worker was asked why he was "so black" and was fired for complaining. That question could have easily been asked, and probably has been asked, to minorities in mainland U.S.A. For details on this EEOC case, see the case study below:



Koper Furniture Harassed Employee Because of Dark Color and Fired Him for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged

SAN JUAN, P.R. – Koper Furniture violated federal law when it permitted a store manager to harass a dark-complexioned Puerto Rican employee because of his skin color and fired him for complaining, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit.

Koper operates several furniture stores throughout Puerto Rico. According to the EEOC’s suit, EEOC v. Koper Furniture, Inc., Case No. 09-1563 (JAG), filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the store manager, who is also Puerto Rican, taunted the sales associate about his dark skin color and asked him why he was “so black.” The EEOC says Koper retaliated against the sales associate by firing him after he complained about the harassment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

“Federal law protects people from race and color discrimination in the workplace,” said Jacqueline H. McNair, district director of the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “Just as importantly, the law also protects those who complain to protect their federal rights to protest against discrimination. The Commission takes allegations of retaliation very seriously, and has brought this suit to ensure the integrity of exercising these rights.”

The EEOC’s Miami regional attorney, Nora E. Curtin, added, “Harassment based on skin color can be just as humiliating and degrading as other forms of discrimination. Employers must treat colorism complaints seriously and punish the perpetrators – not the victims.”

The EEOC has noticed a substantial increase over the past 15 years in discrimination charge filings based on color.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at


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