Title VII prohibits employment discrimination because of “color” as a basis separately listed in the statute. The statute does not define “color.” The courts and the Commission read “color” to have its commonly understood meaning – pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone. Thus, color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person. Even though race and color clearly overlap, they are not synonymous. Thus, color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity.
James, a light-complexioned African American, has worked as a waiter at a restaurant for over a year. His manager, a brown-complexioned African American, has frequently made offensive comments and jokes about James’s skin color, causing him to lose sleep and dread coming in to work. James’s requests that the conduct stop only intensified the abuse. James has been subjected to harassment in the form of a hostile work environment, based on his color.
COLOR-BASED EMPLOYMENT DECISIONS
Melanie, a brown-complexioned Latina, works as a sales clerk for a major department store. She applies for a promotion to be the Counter Manager for a major line of beauty products, but the employer denies her the promotion because the vendor prefers a “light skinned representative” to manage its product line at this particular location. The employer has unlawfully discriminated on the basis of color.
More race based discrimination cases are filed with the EEOC than color discrimination claims.