What is the difference between “Race” discrimination and “Color” discrimination?

February 10, 2016

Topics: Harassment Discrimination and Retaliation

“Race” discrimination is discrimination based on a person’s race.  This includes discrimination based on physical characteristics associated with race (such as skin color, hair texture, or facial features).  It also includes discrimination based on cultural practices or characteristics that are associated with a particular race, and discrimination based on medical conditions that predominately affect one race. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), for example, recognizes African American, Hispanic and Asian as different races.

“Color” discrimination is discrimination based on a person’s skin color.  Color is defined by the courts and the federal government as pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone.  Skin color can be, but it not necessarily, a characteristic of race.  Color discrimination includes discrimination based on the lightness, darkness or other color characteristic of a person.  For that reason a person of a particular race who is dark skinned can allege “color” discrimination against a person of the same race who is light skinned.  Because the color of their skin is different, the employee can assert a discrimination claim.

Race discrimination and color discrimination can exist between persons of different races and ethnicity, as well as between persons of the same race and ethnicity.

Federal law recognizes both “race” and “color” discrimination, as may state or other local laws.