When dealing with the topic of racial discrimination, you might hear some people use the terms race and color interchangeably. While the two concepts might appear to cover the exact same ground, they actually differ from each other. Nonetheless, federal law protects employees from discrimination on both racial grounds and skin color.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), racial discrimination refers to an employer taking discriminatory action against an employee because of characteristics related to the race of the worker. Sometimes physical characteristics do play a role, but racial discrimination can also take place when a workplace singles out someone due to genetics common to the race of the worker.
Discrimination due to color specifically applies to a workplace taking action against an employee due to the pigmentation color of the skin. Color discrimination may occur between members of different races or ethnicities, so in such situations color discrimination can overlap with racial discrimination. However, this is not always the case.
Some forms of color discrimination occur between members of the same race. Not every person that belongs to the same race possesses the same shade of skin color. For instance, a person of Latino descent with lighter skin may discriminate against another Latino worker who has a darker skin color. Even so, federal law forbids color discrimination no matter how light or how dark skin color is.
So even though racial and skin color discrimination may occur at the same time, the two concepts are not the same. A workplace may engage in one form of discrimination without committing the other. Nonetheless, no worker deserves to receive ill treatment from an employer on the basis of physical characteristics or racial background. A worker can seek relief under federal law if such discrimination occurs.