The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Facts About Race/Color Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color as well as national origin, sex, or religion.

It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race or color in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups.

Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination and neutral job policies that disproportionately exclude minorities and that are not job related.

Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied because of marriage to or association with an individual of a different race; membership in or association with ethnic based organizations or groups; attendance or participation in schools or places of worship generally associated with certain minority groups; or other cultural practices or characteristics often linked to race or ethnicity, such as cultural dress or manner of speech, as long as the cultural practice or characteristic does not materially interfere with the ability to perform job duties.

Race-Related Characteristics and Conditions

Discrimination on the basis of an immutable characteristic associated with race, such as skin color, hair texture, or certain facial features violates Title VII, even though not all members of the race share the same characteristic.

Title VII also prohibits discrimination on the basis of a condition which predominantly affects one race unless the practice is job related and consistent with business necessity. For example, since sickle cell anemia predominantly occurs in African-Americans, a policy which excludes individuals with sickle cell anemia is discriminatory unless the policy is job related and consistent with business necessity. Similarly, a “no-beard” employment policy may discriminate against African-American men who have a predisposition to pseudofolliculitis barbae (severe shaving bumps) unless the policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Color Discrimination

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. Although Title VII 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. Title VII prohibits race/color discrimination against all persons, including Caucasians.

Although a plaintiff may prove a claim of discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence, some courts take the position that if a white person relies on circumstantial evidence to establish a reverse discrimination claim, he or she must meet a heightened standard of proof. The Commission, in contrast, applies the same standard of proof to all race discrimination claims, regardless of the victim’s race or the type of evidence used. In either case, the ultimate burden of persuasion remains always on the plaintiff.

Employers should adopt "best practices" to reduce the likelihood of discrimination and to address impediments to equal employment opportunity.

Title VII's protections include:

This page was last modified on September 8, 2008.

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