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What is 'Race' or 'Color' as Used in Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA") prohibit discrimination against an employee because of the employee's race or color. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); Tex. Lab. Code § 21.051. However, neither Title VII nor the TCHRA define "race" or "color." So, what exactly is race and color discrimination? Fortunately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") has issued guidance on the definition of these terms.

Race DiscriminationIn its guidance, the EEOC expanded the definition of the term "race" to include the following:
  • Ancestry - For example, an employer who terminated a Chinese-American employee may be influenced by the employee's Asian ancestry, and not her national origin;
  • Physical Characteristics - Specifically, the EEOC listed traits associated with race such as a person's color, hair, facial features, height, and weight;
  • Race-Linked Illness - perhaps the most common example of race-linked illness would be sickle cell anemia, which is known to affect persons of African descent;
  • Culture - "Culture," according the EEOC, includes a person's name, cultural dress and grooming practices, accent and manner of speech;
  • Perception - Even where an employer is mistaken about whether its employee is a member of a particular race, discrimination based on that belief is also prohibited; and
  • Association - An employer who discriminates against an employee for associating with members of a particular race, marrying a member of another race, or having a multi-racial child.
Color Discrimination In the same way, the term "color" includes more than simply the obvious differences. The EEOC articulated a definition of color to include differences in pigmentation, complexion, skin shade, or skin tone. Further, the EEOC guidelines recognize that while there is a large overlap between race discrimination and color discrimination, the two terms are not synonymous. Accordingly, were an African American employer with dark skin complexion to discriminate against an African American with light skin complexion, the terminated employee would have a viable Title VII color discrimination claim.Both Title VII and the Texas corollary of the TCHRA prohibit discrimination based on various protected classifications, including race and color. If an employer has taken an adverse employment action against you, whether it be termination, reduction in hours, loss of benefits, or other adverse employment action, consult with a board certified labor and employment law attorney to ensure your rights are being fully protected.For the full EEOC Compliance Manual regarding race and color discrimination, visit AWR. 
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