James, a light-complexioned African-American, works as a waiter. His manager, a brown-complexioned African-American, frequently makes offensive comments and jokes about James' skin color. As a result, James can't sleep and dreads going to work. He asks the supervisor to stop, but the abuse only intensifies.
This hypothetical story of color-on-color harassment is one of more than two-dozen scenarios described in the EEOC's recently released "Compliance Manual Section on Race and Color Discrimination." Although the guidelines break no new legal ground, they highlight contemporary examples of discrimination that may escape the notice of even a vigilant employer. They also provide clues to EEOC priorities and best-practices.
While intentional discrimination is still present in some workplaces, many of the EEOC guidelines illustrate situations where a seemingly legitimate policy violates the law because of its disparate impact on a protected group, or where subconscious judgments result in discriminatory decisions.
Other best practices include recommendations on training, objective qualification standards, harassment policies and protection from retaliation.
One best practice not mentioned in the guidelines is to keep abreast of EEOC settlements, says Gerald Pauling, a partner in Seyfarth Shaw.