Color Discrimination in Employment

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Gregory A. Williams, Esq.

Williams Law Group, P.S.

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by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, what is the definition of color discrimination in employment? Here’s my point of view (please review our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy Notice before proceeding).


Generally, under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW Chapter 49.60, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on protected classes in employment. Protected classes relating to employment discrimination include race or color; national origin; creed; sex or pregnancy; sexual orientation or gender identity; veteran or military status; presence of any sensory, mental, or physical actual disability or perceived disability; use of a service animal; HIV or hepatitis C; marital status; and age.


Color discrimination arises when the particular hue of the plaintiff’s skin is the cause of the discrimination, such as in the case where a dark-colored African American individual is discriminated against in favor of a light-colored African American individual. Bryant v. Bell Atlantic Maryland, Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 133 n. 5 (4th Cir. 2002). This principle also applies to federal law outside the scope of both Washington Law Against Discrimination and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For example, the United States Supreme Court has proclaimed that “a distinctive physiognomy is not essential to qualify for § 1981 protection.” Saint Francis College, et al. v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 107 S.Ct. 2022, 2026, 95 L.Ed.2d 582 (1987) (the court finding it not controlling that a black person was suing another black person under § 1981) (emphasis added). Incidentally, the term “physiognomy” is a noun that means a person’s facial features or expression, especially when regarded as indicative of character or ethnic origin. English Oxford Living Dictionaries, (Oxford University Press 2017).


In light of the foregoing, an African American employee, for instance, might be able to recover against their employer under theories of both racial and color discrimination. And the claim of color discrimination may be based upon the particular hue of the African American employee’s skin color. Alternatively, a group of dark-skinned Latino employees, for example, might be able to bring a claim of color discrimination against their employer even though their lighter-skinned Latino co-workers are not experiencing such discrimination. Obviously, these are just clarifying examples, and other races/nationalities may be included under a claim of color discrimination based on the circumstances of each case.


If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced employment discrimination attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible. This article is not offered as legal advice and will not establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Law Group, Law Office of Gregory A. Williams, P.S., inc., or the author of this article. Please read our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy notice.