Pay attention to rising complaints of ‘same-race’ bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: Courts are seeing a spike in discrimination claims involving people of the same race.

Risk: Some supervisors wrongly ignore same-race complaints, believing, for example, that "blacks can't discriminate against blacks."

Action: Warn managers that anyone can be guilty of discrimination or harassment, even a person in the same protected class.

Don't overlook discrimination at your workplace simply because the "discriminator" and the "discriminatee" are in the same protected group.

Courts have held members of racial minorities guilty of discriminating against other members of racial minorities. (In the same way, managers over age 40 can be guilty of age discrimination.)

This issue flared up in recent court battles surrounding job bias based on the shade of an employee's skin. For this reason, make sure your anti-discrimination policy and training ban discrimination based on an employee's skin color and tone. Federal law not only bans job bias based on race, but also on the lightness or darkness of the person's skin.

Case 1. A black supervisor called a dark-skinned black waiter "tar baby" and "black monkey." When the waiter threatened to report the boss, he was fired. The waiter filed an EEOC complaint and the restaurant agreed to pay him $40,000 and revise its anti-bias training. Before that, the restaurant chain had no policy prohibiting discrimination based on color. (Burch v. Applebee's International, No. 1:02-CV-829)

Case 2. A black female boss often criticized a black employee who wore business suits and dyed her hair blond as "wanting to be white." The boss, who dressed in "Afrocentric" attire, soon fired the employee, replacing her with a darker-skinned woman with dreadlocks.

When the employee sued for race bias, the company argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act doesn't cover such black-against-black claims. But the court disagreed, saying it doesn't matter what color the perpetrator is, just whether discrimination occurred. (Bryant v. BEGIN Manage Program, E.D.N.Y., 2003)

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