Fourth Circuit Vacates Dismissal of Title VII Color-Based Discrimination Claim

In Felder v. MGM National Harbor, LLC, No. 20-2373, 2022 WL 2871905 (4th Cir. July 21, 2022), the court, inter alia, vacated the lower court’s order dismissing, for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), plaintiff’s claim of color-based discrimination asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

We agree with the district court that Felder failed to adequately plead her claims of race-and sex-based discrimination. Although Felder frequently indicated the race and sex of various individuals throughout her amended complaint, she failed to describe how those attributes played a role in any of the alleged discriminatory conduct, much less her termination.

However, construing the complaint in Felder’s favor, as we must at this stage in the litigation, we conclude that she has alleged a plausible claim of color-based discrimination.

Color discrimination and race discrimination claims are separate causes of action, which may be brought together or irrespective of one another. See Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132-33 & n.5 (4th Cir. 2002). Thus, it is appropriate for courts to address race-and color-based discrimination claims separately, such that the court can independently assess whether each claim passes muster.

With respect to color-based discrimination, Felder alleged that lighter tone African Americans, including herself, were punished more frequently and more harshly than darker tone African Americans. She further alleged that her direct supervisor, a darker tone African American, predominantly hired darker tone African Americans, and that MGM perpetuated a workplace in which derogatory remarks were frequently made against lighter tone African Americans. Indeed, Felder stated that her direct supervisor referred to Felder by use of a derogatory term that implicated Felder’s color a mere three days before Felder was terminated. Finally, Felder repeatedly alleged that she was performing her job to at least a satisfactory level.

Based on this, the court held that “these allegations, if proven true, could demonstrate that Felder was terminated because of her color.”

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