My chicago offices gets many inquiries about the difference between racial discrimination and discrimination based on color. Even though there is an overlap between race and color they are not the same. Color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“) and Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR“) investigate color discrimination. It is interesting to note that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) does not define color but the the courts and the EEOC define color to have its commonly understood meaning – pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone.
In short color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person. Title VII prohibits color discrimination against all persons, including Caucasians. Many people don’t realize this nuance in the law but it does exist. When the IDHR or EEOC are investigating a claim of color discrimination, they utilize a different standard than the circuit or federal courts. They apply the same standard of proof to all race or color discrimination claims, regardless of the victim’s race or the type of evidence used.