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Colorism vs. Racism: Discrimination in the Workplace

Many individuals and organizations today are making an effort to be less discriminatory. In many situations, however, new biases supplant the old without most people even being aware of it—or the old biases may simply take on new characteristics. Such is the case with accusations of colorism, which have been on the rise, with significant involvement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Definitions and Statistics

Colorism is defined as bias directed against individuals solely based on the color of their skin, rather than their ethnicity. This prejudice differs from racism in that it is very often found among members of the same race, though not always.

While the idea of colorism is somewhat new to the average person’s lexicon, the EEOC has been aware of the phenomenon for a longer period. In 2007, the Commission began the Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment (E-RACE) initiative, which combines historically relevant initiatives against racism with new focus on both racism and colorism. If you bring a complaint of colorism to the EEOC, it is very likely to be taken seriously.

Bringing a Charge

As with charges of racism or national origin discrimination, it is generally suggested to first try and achieve conciliation within your company before involving the EEOC. If this is not successful, and it may not be, you may file a charge at any designated office. However, it is important to remember that unlike intra-company complaints, the EEOC has strict time limits on how long you may take to file a charge, and the bureaucratic process of the agency can take quite some time to set in motion.

In most situations, the EEOC will allot up to 180 days for your complaint to be investigated, though it may extend to as long as 300 days in rare cases. While the EEOC only accepts a small number of complaints for prosecution—approximately one percent—it will most often provide what is referred to as a right-to-sue letter. This letter allows an individual to pursue a claim on their own in federal court.

The time frame to pursue a claim is strictly regulated. Once an individual receives a right-to-sue letter, they have only 90 days in which to bring suit. Given that most claims of colorism do not revolve around one incident, but rather come about after repeated microaggressions, it may be a challenge to collate all the relevant evidence and file on time.

Ask an Employment Discrimination Attorney

Many people labor under the misapprehension that if they are victimized by someone of their own race, or their own national origin, that they have no complaint to file. This is not the case. Regardless of your race, color, national origin or any other characteristic, you are entitled to a workplace in which you are treated fairly. An employment discrimination attorney can help clarify matters.

Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience in handling all types of discrimination and Title VII claims. Contact us today at our Charleston law offices to set up an appointment.

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