Employment Discrimination – A Challenge for Employees More Than Forty Years Later

Shavitz Law Group

Since 1938, the federal government’s Fair Labor Standards Act has provided employees with a wide reaching set of rights.  In terms of employment discrimination specifically, the 1960s marked a new era for workers for workers of all backgrounds when a series of laws were created to combat employment discrimination based on racecolorreligionsexnational origin, and age (those above the age of 40).  As we near fifty (50)) years since these laws were passed, below is a brief overview of discrimination claims showing that discrimination is still a problem for employees today.  Discrimination in the workplace does not always follow conventional wisdom, and claims also show that stereotypes and unfair treatment are still very much a common occurrence in a variety of employment settings.  The following examples, from litigation around the country and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission itself, shows that discrimination continues to be a problem at work and at times, shows its ugly head in many different ways.

  • In 2010, a Cleveland staffing firm agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a claim that the agency placed employees based on the discriminatory practices of one of its clients.  More horrifying were the code words were used to describe workers of different races and ages.  A young white male was referred to as a “hockey player” and a young African-American woman was referred to as a “chocolate cupcake.”  White females were called “figured skaters” and women were generally referred to with the term “small hands.”
  • In 2004, a Pennsylvania employee that “looked Caucasian” and has a white mother and African-American father received a settlement of $45,000 after a white co-worker made several racist comments after learning the employee was bi-racial.
  • In 2007, an auto body shop in California agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a claim by an Asian/Italian technician who was routinely called “Bruce Lee.”

Discrimination claims can also be found involving some very reputable employers.

  • One might not expect a problem of discrimination in the heart of a very highly regarded university setting located in one of the most multi-cultural areas in the country.  Yet, New York University (NYU) in 2011 agreed to pay a library employee $210,000 when allegations of racial slurs such as “go back to the jungle” and “go back to your cage” emerged.  While slurs that could easily be considered much worse were also alleged, these two examples illustrate how a mean, negative spirit can lead an instigator to the dangerous waters of discrimination.
  • In 2007, one of the nation’s leading banks (MBNA) agreed to pay an Asian Indian employee $147,000 after allegations of name-calling that included “Osama Bin Laden” and a physical attack by a coworker who actually believed he was Osama’s brother.
  • Last year, Pepsi agreed to pay $3.13 million when its criminal background checks for applicants were found to exclude African-American applicants disproportionately from employment, as compared to other applicants.  Pepsi was accused of  denying employment to employees, on the basis of the criminal background check, despite the fact that a number of them did not have convictions on their record.  The use of arrest and conviction records to deny employment can be illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when it is not relevant for the job, to the extent it limits the employment opportunities of applicants or workers based on their race or ethnicity.”
  • Also last year, Whirlpool agreed to pay more than $1 million after an African American employee showed in Court that four levels of the company management were aware of a series of escalating harassment in the workplace.  The employee suffered permanent mental injuries as a result of an assault during that period, and evidence was presented that she may not be able to work again as a result of Whirlpool’s failure to protect her.

In an ideal world, it would not take more than forty years to eliminate this problem employees regularly face.  Discrimination can appear in many different shapes, but also shades as well.  If you know someone who may have experienced discrimination at work, the Shavitz Law Group is always available to provide a no-obligation free consultation .