A great many of our cases involve discrimination and retaliation. We are heavily involved in cases of discrimination based on race, disability, gender, national origin, and ethnicity.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit New Jersey employers from discriminating against any person based on their skin color or complexion. Color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person.1 Typically, claims of color discrimination arise where a dark-skinned employee is treated less favorably than a light-skinned employee in the “terms and conditions” of their employment, such as salary or benefits, work assignments, discipline and/or discharge. Also, color discrimination claims, which tend to overlap with racial discrimination claims, arise where an employee is subjected to harassment in the workplace, such as racial or ethnic slurs, “jokes,” comments, or inappropriate images or behavior that are based upon the employee’s skin color.
Various studies have shown that the prevalence of color discrimination or “colorism” in our society, which even exists among members of the same race or ethnicity, is based upon historical attitudes and notions that lighter or white skinned individuals are superior to darker skinned individuals in competence and ability. Further studies have shown that where darker skinned employees were matched with lighter skinned employees with regard to their qualifications, levels of education and overall job performance, the darker skinned employees were still treated less favorably compared to their lighter skinned counterparts with respect to training and promotional opportunities.
Esma Etienne v. Spanish Lake Truck & Casino Plaza, L.L.C.2, a 2015 case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, is illustrative of color discrimination. In that case, Esma Etienne (“Etienne”), a darker skinned African-American woman, worked as a waitress and bartender at the Spanish Lake Truck & Casino Plaza (“Spanish Lake”). Despite her qualifications and seniority, Etienne was denied a promotion to a management position. In her lawsuit, Etienne introduced evidence showing that Spanish Lake’s general manager not only allocated job duties based upon an employee’s skin color, but prohibited dark skinned, African-American employees from handling any money, and specifically told Etienne’s supervisor that Etienne was “too black to do various tasks at the casino.” The Court found that this evidence was sufficient for Etienne to proceed to trial and reversed the dismissal of her complaint.
Discrimination on the basis of color continues to exist in the workplace and to have a significant impact on the employment opportunities of many individuals. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports a steady increase in the number of color discrimination claims3. While it is disheartening to know that this type of discrimination still occurs, the increase in claims also suggests a greater awareness of employees’ rights in this area, which can help to ensure that, in the future, color will play no part in employment decisions.4
Do you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, due to your color? It’s important to act quickly to find out if you may have a claim under Title VII or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Since every situation is different, only an experienced New Jersey employment attorney can help you fully understand your rights under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The attorneys at Hyderally & Associates are ready to help you. They have experience working with both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and Title VII, so they can review your situation to provide information that will help you decide if you would like to pursue a claim against your employer. Call an experienced employment attorney in New Jersey at 973-509-8500.
This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and may not reasonably be relied upon as such. If you face a legal issue, you should consult a qualified attorney for independent legal advice with regard to your particular set of facts. This article may constitute attorney advertising. This article is not intended to communicate with anyone in a state or other jurisdiction where such an article may fail to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state or jurisdiction.
- 1See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-race.cfm
- 2Etienne v. Spanish Lake Truck & Casino Plaza, LLC, No. 14-30026 (5th Cir. Feb. 3, 2015).
- 3See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm
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