Diversity & Inclusion

EEOC Taking Close Look at Hiring Decisions

Someone applies for a job and doesn’t get it. End of story? Not necessarily. More than 6,300 unsuccessful job applicants have complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) so far this fiscal year, claiming illegal discrimination kept them out of a job.

Bass Pro, Weight Watchers in EEOC’s Sights

The EEOC is focusing on failure to hire. In late September, it sued sporting goods retailer Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC, alleging that it engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to hire African American and Hispanic applicants for jobs in its retail stores nationwide. The lawsuit also alleges that Bass Pro unlawfully destroyed or failed to keep records and documents related to employment applications and internal discrimination complaints and punished employees who opposed its unlawful practices.

The EEOC also recently sued Weight Watchers, claiming it broke the law against pregnancy discrimination when it refused to hire a pregnant woman as a group leader. The woman was a longtime Weight Watchers member who had successfully met and maintained her weight goals, a statement from the EEOC says. The applicant’s own group leader encouraged her to apply for the position, but Weight Watchers told her it didn’t hire pregnant women and refused to consider her, the agency alleges.

Failure-to-hire charges make up about six to 10 percent of annual claims filed with the EEOC over the past 12 years, commission data show. This year, the EEOC has displayed great interest in pursuing barriers to employment, possibly because the job market is so tight in the struggling economy. It has held meetings on hiring discrimination in general, some employers’ decision not to hire unemployed people, and the effect background screenings for arrests and convictions have on hiring.

“Intentional discrimination in hiring remains a significant problem,” EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien said in a statement. “The EEOC will continue to address this problem through enhanced education and outreach and through vigorous enforcement of the law.”

Red Flags for Commission

In a statement, EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said the commission will go to court to end such practices as “conformity to discriminatory customer preferences, employing prohibited stereotypes about jobs, and targeted recruitment procedures aimed at only attracting certain racial or national origin group member applicants.”

EEOC data show that claimants most often allege age discrimination as the reason they weren’t hired, followed by race, disability, and nonpregnancy-related sex discrimination. The overall failure-to-hire numbers reached their 11-year high in fiscal year 2002, with 8,374 charges, which accounted for about 10 percent of all discrimination charges.

The EEOC itself acknowledges that hiring discrimination cases can be very hard to identify and investigate, in part because applicants often don’t know who was hired or the composition of the employer’s workforce.

Going by the Numbers

A case the EEOC settled in November 2010 with a company called Scrub, Inc., illustrates how it can pursue failure-to-hire charges. Scrub, which provides janitorial services to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, agreed to pay $3million after the EEOC sued it for failing to recruit and hire African Americans. An economist’s report showed that “the statistical disparity in hiring rates between African-American applicants and non-African- American applicants was so high that there is effectively zero probability that Scrub’s failure to hire African-Americans occurred by chance,” an EEOC attorney said at one of this summer’s meetings.

The EEOC’s news release on the recently filed suit against Bass Pro states that it found “class-wide hiring discrimination based on statistical and anecdotal evidence.” The commission says it tried to reach a voluntary settlement with the retailer before suing to prohibit Bass Pro from engaging in race discrimination, national origin discrimination, retaliation, and improper record destruction. The EEOC also is asking for back pay for victims of hiring discrimination and/or retaliation, compensatory and punitive damages and other relief, including implementing fair recruitment and hiring procedures, and reinstatement or rightful-place hiring of mistreated job applicants and former employees.

Word to the Wise

That’s a lot of potential relief for job applicants and workers. One message for employers is to review current hiring policies and practices, especially in light of the potential problem areas the EEOC’s general counsel mentioned: discriminatory customer preferences, stereotypes about jobs, and targeted recruitment procedures. Work with experienced employment counsel to make sure hiring decisions are based on legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons tied to how well applicants’ experience and skills match a job’s requirements.

2 thoughts on “EEOC Taking Close Look at Hiring Decisions”

  1. One wonders from time to time if these people are qualified for the job. I do not agree with discrimination of any sort in hiring practices and think it needs to be dealt with. I also don’t think the employer should be penalized for not hiring a person who would not contribute to the betterment of their business just to satisfy some type of government quota.
    This is still the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA !!!!!!!!!

  2. Oh please! Tom Allen, it’s attitudes like yours that significantly contribute to the rise in employment-based discrimination and complacency when incidents are raised. This United States of America happens to have passed a sweeping Civil Rights Act in 1964 and now it is mostly a joke. And arguments like this “supposedly unqualified for llegit reasons” is ALWAYS the first line excuse. SO LAME! You are the objector which absolutely proves the problem: DISCRIMINATION. People just want to do what they want to, right? WRONG! And that’s why this country was supposedly such a beacon to the world. We once set a higher standard. People’s lives depended on it. Lucky you that you never needed any such protection.

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