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EEOC Settles Same-race Discrimination Complaint

by Gerard Panaro, BOL Guru

The EEOC announced on August 07, 2003 that it had settled a "rare color harassment and retaliation lawsuit" against Applebee's, the restaurant chain. The complainant was a dark-skinned African American who alleged discrimination by a light-skinned African American manager. The complainant said he was terminated when he complained to corporate headquarters.

Prior to the lawsuit, Applebee's did not have a written policy in effect at any of its nationwide restaurants prohibiting discrimination based on color. Applebee's now has amended its harassment and discrimination policies to include color as a protected basis in accordance with Title VII.

The EEOC Director in Atlanta, where the case arose, said: "It is equally important that employers realize that 'color' is a separate protected basis under Title VII. Employers violate federal law when they discriminate based on color, including the harassment of employees because of their respective skin colors."

The EEOC said that it has observed an increasing number of color discrimination charge filings at agency field offices across the country. Color bias filings have increased by over 200% since the mid-1990s from 413 in Fiscal Year 1994 to 1,382 in FY 2002. The majority of charge filing last fiscal year were in the Northeast (44%), followed by the West (21%), South (15%), Midwest (12.5%), and Southwest (7.5%).

This case highlights a number of points: 1) it emphasizes that "color" is a protected category separate from race. This is not the first such case: a few years ago, a black female who worked for the IRS successfully sued because her manager, also a black female, harassed her on the basis of color. 2) One's anti-harassment policy, even if it focuses on sex harassment, should also contain a statement that it similarly forbids harassment on the basis of all other protected categories. 3) In addition to being sensitive to color discrimination, employers should also be sensitive to rarer, but no less illegal forms of discrimination involving same-sex harassment (male-on-male and female-on-female) and national origin discrimination (e.g., employee of Chinese national origin harassing employee of Japanese national origin).

First published October 2003 in Fair Employment Practices Guidelines, a semimonthly publication by Aspen Publishers, 1185 Avenue of the Americas. New York, NY.

About the Author:
Gerard P. Panaro has more than 25 years' experience in employment law and is available to assist readers on an individual basis. You may reach him at 202-861-1314. Mr. Panaro is of counsel with Howe & Hutton, in the Washington, DC office.

First published on 9/29/03

First published on 09/29/2003

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