A lot of business executives think about racial and national origin discrimination in one dimension. They figure they’ll be fine as long as their white managers hire and promote minorities based on their skills and competencies rather than assumptions that could be anchored in bias.

In the real world, it’s surprisingly more complex than that. The managers aren’t always white. The workers aren’t always minorities. And it’s not always the managers who are doing the discriminating.

To give you an idea of how complicating it can get, let’s look at a scenario based on the EEOC case, Bryant v. Begin Manage Program. Barbara, an African-American woman, works with Denise and Ameera, two African-American colleagues who wear their hair in braids and dress in “African-style” clothes and head kerchiefs.

Barbara is more comfortable in a business suit. Her two co-workers regularly accuse her of “acting white.” They tell her she should dress like them, but she politely declines.

So they refuse to cooperate with her, often withholding files she needs until she asks the supervisor, Joe, to help her get them.

Joe, who is white, doesn’t discipline Denise and Ameera. He figures issues of black identity are too touchy for him to get involved in. And besides, he thinks, “Surely it’s not possible for African Americans to discriminate against each other.”

But when Joe later terminates Barbara for performance issues, Barbara sues for racial discrimination. And the court says she has a case.

It never occurred to Joe that intra-racial discrimination – whites against whites, or blacks against blacks – is just as illegal as any other kind.

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