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Skin Color Discrimination in California

Race is one of the many characteristics of an individual that is frequently present in a lot of employment discrimination cases, whether within California or within the whole U.S. Here, an applicant or an employee may be treated unfavorably in any aspect of employment—from hiring to termination—just because of his or her race, including related characteristics associated with it like his or her hair texture, facial features and skin color. Fortunately enough, there are laws that protect individuals from being subjected to discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory conduct based on their race. Under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or FEHA, it is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant in all aspects of one’s employment, as well as to subject him or her to any employment decision based on several stereotypes and assumptions regarding his or her race.

One of the characteristics associated with one’s race is skin color, as stated under Title VII. But then, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces anti-workplace discrimination laws such as Title VII, both the characteristic of race and color are separate protected classes, despite the two traits overlapping in several situations in employment. Like Title VII, the FEHA also regards race and color as two separate protected categories.

Generally, discrimination in the workplace based on one’s color involves a person singling out another because of the latter’s skin color, whether it is light, dark, or any other color characteristic. It can occur between two individuals who belong to either different or the same race or ethnicity. While Title VII doesn’t have the definition of the term “color,” the EEOC, as well as the courts, have come to understand that it is one’s skin “pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone.”

To compare the two protected characteristics, consider this situation. Imagine a manager who holds a bias towards multiracial people decided to promote a newly-hired, less-experienced Caucasian employee over a highly-qualified African-American employee who has been working with the company for a long time. This situation involves prejudice based on race. However, if the two individuals involved in the situation were both African-Americans, but the one promoted is a lighter-skinned while the one denied of the promotion is darker-skinned, then it is deemed discrimination based on skin color. Indeed, the motivation of the manager to choose the lighter-skinned African-American employee to a promotion is based on not race, but color.

Meanwhile, individuals who were subjected to adverse employment decisions in the workplace based on their skin color are entitled to assert their rights against the unlawful conduct of their employers or co-workers. They may seek to file their claims with the EEOC or with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). They may also consult with lawyers who specialize in handling employment lawsuits regarding skin color discrimination in California. By doing so, they may be aware if they have a case against their employers alleging either or both race and color discrimination.

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