Fourth Circuit Allows Claim of Color Discrimination to Advance

Eric Paltell
Eric Paltell

While claims of employment discrimination are somewhat commonplace, it is far less common to see cases of discrimination based on color. In Felder v MGM National Harbor, No. 20-2373, the United States Court of Appeals for the Court Circuit reversed a trial court and allowed a claim of color discrimination to proceed beyond the Motion to Dismiss stage. 

The case arose when the plaintiff, Britney Felder, filed suit alleging that she was discriminated against and fired by MGM National Harbor because of her race, color and sex. Judge Messitte of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted MGM’s motion to dismiss all of her claims, and Felder appealed to the Fourth Circuit.  

While the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the race and gender claims, it reversed the dismissal of the color discrimination allegations.   Felder had alleged that lighter tone African American employees, including herself, were punished more frequently and more harshly that darker tone African Americans.  She also alleged that her supervisor, and darker tone African American, hired predominantly darker tone African American employees and that the MGM workplace was one where derogatory remarks were frequently made towards lighter tone African Americans. The Fourth Circuit found these allegations sufficient to withstand a Motion to Dismiss.  

While claims of color discrimination may be infrequent, they are just as viable as any claim of race discrimination.  I once defended a claim of color discrimination similar to that made by Felder after the EEOC found Probable Cause to believe there was discrimination.   Employers must be sure to take these claims seriously and ensure that workplaces are free of discriminatory treatment based upon skin tone.  

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