A Bias That's Skin Deep

Recent Skin Color Cases

By Patrick Mirza Dec 1, 2003

HR Magazine, December 2003

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed three color discrimination lawsuits in the past few years, according to public affairs officer David Grinberg.

Applebee’s. In April 2001, the EEOC sued Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar of Georgia Inc., on behalf of Dwight Burch, a dark-skinned black employee who claimed that his lighter-skinned black manager consistently made derogatory remarks about his color and discharged him when Burch threatened to complain to Applebee’s headquarters.

The EEOC’s Atlanta District Office concluded there was probable cause to believe Burch’s allegations and filed suit after efforts to reach a voluntary settlement failed.

The EEOC settled the case for monetary relief of $40,000 for Burch and remedial relief including training by Applebee’s.

Barber Auto Dealership. In April 2003, the EEOC sued Barber Dodge and Fairfield Toyota, part of a network of auto dealerships in Solano County, Calif., alleging that at least five Afghan employees suffered daily verbal harassment and a hostile work environment due to their national origin, color and religion.

According to the EEOC investigation, supervisors and co-workers harassed the employees by referring to them as “terrorists” and “thieves” and by publicly deriding their Afghan origin, dark skin color and Muslim faith.

Some of the Afghan employees felt they had no choice but to resign; others were fired after complaining about the discrimination. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California. It seeks injunctive relief, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the workers.

2M Dry Wall. In August 2001, the EEOC sued 2M Dry Wall Inc., a High Point, N.C.-based company, alleging that Joshua Maynard, an American Indian, was subjected to repeated acts of harassment by his supervisor. The harassment, which lasted until Maynard left the company several months later, included inappropriate comments about the color of Maynard’s skin.

Several employees complained to management on Maynard’s behalf. The EEOC claims the company did not act to stop the harassment. The lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina and seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Maynard, as well as other injunctive relief.

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