By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – By now most employers know that it is illegal to discriminate against workers on the basis of race, color, or any other protected class status. But many employers don’t realize that there is, in fact, a difference between race and color – and it’s a lesson companies are learning the hard way.

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Dwight Burch, a dark-skinned African-American employee of Applebees restaurant reported to a light-skinned African American manager, who made remarks about Mr. Burch’s dark skin and terminated him when he threatened to complain to management. The EEOC filed suit on Mr. Burch’s behalf, and received a $40,000 settlement from Applebees.

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According the EEOC, color bias filings have increased by over 400% since 1997, and in 2013 alone companies paid more than $29 million to settle EEOC complaints of discrimination on the basis of color. This means that employers and supervisors who thought that they couldn’t face lawsuits because the supervisor and the supervisee – or the former employee and the employee hired to replace him – are the same race, found out they were sadly and expensively mistaken.

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What’s the solution? Base all employment decisions on performance and not on skin tone, obviously. And if you’re the boss, don’t think that it’s ok to discriminate against someone the same race as you because of color.