A Matter of Tone

Complaints of color discrimination may constitute an emerging trend in workplace discrimination claims. An article in the May 2004 issue of the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association newsletter says that the number of “colorism” claims rose to 1,555 in fiscal year 2003, up from 1,400 in fiscal year 2002. An August 2003 settlement of such a claim (for $40,000) against a restaurant chain, handled in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Atlanta office, highlighted the growing importance of the issue for employers.

Charges of color bias are brought against employers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Most typically initiated by darker-skinned African-Americans against lighter-skinned African-Americans, color discrimination claims tend to differ subtly from claims of racial discrimination brought under the same Act. Plaintiffs may find a lack of records on skin color and some judicial bias against such claims, and the MFSA article cites “a great deal of uncertainty over whether discrimination based on skin tone is even illegal.” For more information, contact the MFSA at (800) 333-6272.