U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Meeting of June 22, 2011 - Disparate Treatment in Hiring
Good morning, Chair Berrien, Commissioners Ishimaru, Feldblum, Barker, and Lipnic, and General Counsel Lopez. My name is Ana Lopez-Rodriguez.
I worked for Area Temps in various positions from approximately June 2004 to April 2005. I started as a temporary worker and was eventually promoted to “inside” sales positions. At Area Temps, “inside” sales involved placing temporary workers at various job sites. Area Temps maintained a database listing available workers. Companies called Area Temps when they needed workers and asked Area Temps to refer people from its database for employment. Sometimes the employment opportunity was temporary; at other times, the workers we placed had the opportunity to move up from temporary work to status as a permanent hire.
Area Temps instructed us to assign workers to particular jobs, or to send workers to particular companies, based on race and gender. We were told that it was necessary, for example, to select only males for certain jobs or to send only white employees to certain companies. Management told us that the most important thing was to select the “right” kind of worker that each customer wanted – even if that meant going along with the customers’ discriminatory preferences. Management said that such practices were not illegal because we were simply giving our customers what they wanted.
Area Temps took photographs of available workers and included those photographs in its electronic database. We were instructed to use the photographs to select workers. Management told us not to select someone from the database unless we first reviewed the person’s photograph. If there was no photograph for a worker in the database, we were instructed to ask others in the office whether they recalled what the worker looked like. If we couldn’t get that information from a colleague, and there was no photograph in the database, we were instructed not to select the worker even if he or she was qualified for the job.
At Area Temps, instructions to assign workers based on discriminatory preferences were communicated using code words, abbreviations, and references to certain “types.” To assist me in selecting workers for assignments, I was given a Rolodex full of cards. Each card identified a different company that was an Area Temps customer. Some cards in the Rolodex were marked with abbreviations indicating which kind of worker Area Temps should provide to the company listed on that card. For example, some cards were marked with “W,” which meant we should send only white workers to that company. Other cards reflected similar codes: “B” meant to send only black workers and “WM” meant to send only white males. Another code used on Rolodex cards was the phrase “small hands.” An Area Temps manager taught me that using the phrase “small hands” meant that we should send a female for the job. Management also instructed us to select workers based on race and gender by using certain code words or phrases. For example, when I was told to send someone “like you and me” or when I was told that the customer was “very conservative,” that meant that I should select a white worker. The phrase “vanilla cupcake” was used at Area Temps to indicate the need for a white worker and “chocolate cupcake” was used to refer to black workers.
Area Temps managers instructed us to select workers based on race and gender. For example, management told us to select males for jobs in shipping and receiving and for jobs that involved heavy lifting; conversely, we were told to select females for packing or inspector jobs. On one occasion, one of my colleagues suggested a qualified female for a shipping and receiving job; Area Temps management refused the suggestion, remarking that the female was “not the type” Area Temps wanted. Another manager told the same colleague that he shouldn’t place black females with a particular company. On another occasion, management yelled at me for selecting a black worker for a particular job and told me that the company called to complain that I sent them a black worker.
The pressure to go along with these practices at Area Temps was intense. The demands of the job were heavy; we were constantly pressured to satisfy customers quickly and without complaints. In some circumstances, we were not allowed to leave the workplace until we had filled all pending requests for workers. I needed the job to support my family.
During the course of my employment at Area Temps, I became aware that a complaint had been filed with EEOC about the discriminatory placement practices. In late March 2005, an Area Temps manager told me that an EEOC Investigator would be visiting my office at the end of that week. The manager told me to check all of my Rolodex cards and make sure that nothing was written on the cards that would provide information to EEOC. Cards with codes written on them were to be shredded. The manager also told me that EEOC requested information about me; she seemed worried and wanted to know whether I had spoken to anyone at EEOC.
Even though Area Temps told us that its practices were legal, I knew that it was, at the very least, not right to select workers for particular jobs based on race or gender – even if the customer demanded it. So I decided not to change anything in my Rolodex and to leave the coded cards there for the EEOC Investigator to find. For example, I left a card in my Rolodex that was coded, “W,” meaning that only white workers should be selected for that customer. The day before EEOC’s scheduled visit to our office, management advised us they were staying late and told us to go home. Sometime that evening someone removed the “W” coded-card from my Rolodex. When I came to work the next morning, that card had been removed from my Rolodex and I saw management going through my colleague’s Rolodex. EEOC visited our offices that day. One week later Area Temps retaliated against me by firing me. Management discovered that I left my coded cards in my Rolodex and, in doing so, refused to help them conceal evidence from EEOC. They suspected that I was cooperating with EEOC. As a result, they fired me.
I was afraid to oppose the practices at Area Temps because I didn’t want to lose a job that I badly needed to support my family. But, in the end, it was worth it. In refusing to help Area Temps destroy evidence of its discriminatory practices, I stood up for what I knew was right.