Teens Told How to Handle Employment Discrimination at Nationwide Press Conference for High School Journalists
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) yesterday held its first-ever nationwide press conference for high school journalists to discuss the problem of sexual harassment and other discriminatory conduct against teens in American workplaces.
"Discrimination happens to employees of all ages, but offenders sometimes single out teen workers because they think they won't know any better. Sometimes, too, people commit acts of discrimination because they don't know any better," said EEOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez at the press conference, pointing out that younger workers often have young and inexperienced supervisors as well.
EEOC Vice Chair Naomi C. Earp, who is spearheading the agency's initiative to protect the rights of younger workers, said, "When you encounter discrimination, be brave enough to step up and stop it." Vice Chair Earp explained that one goal of the EEOC is to help employers create positive first work experiences for young adults. "As the next generation of managers, business leaders, and entrepreneurs, young workers will carry the information they learn from our agency with them throughout their professional careers," she said.
Vice Chair Earp planned and then moderated the press conference for high school journalists nationwide. Participants present from 18 Metropolitan Washington-area high schools - as well as from over 42 other schools from 16 states and the District of Columbia via teleconference - discussed the problem with EEOC Commissioners, EEOC St. Louis District Director Lynn Bruner, and a workplace sexual harassment victim and her private attorney. This event provided a rare opportunity for high school journalists to ask questions of high-ranking government officials, including the EEOC Chair and Vice Chair, who are appointed by the President of the United States.
Amanda Nichols, who was verbally and physically abused by her supervisor at a "Steak 'n' Shake" fast-food restaurant in St. Louis, said, "I was completely disillusioned. It caused a tremendous increase in how fast I had to grow up. I thought [my managers] would think of my best interests. When they didn't, I felt like I was screaming and nobody was hearing me."
The EEOC filed suit against Steak 'n' Shake after investigating the discrimination charge, finding merit, and exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement. "Working with the EEOC was a wonderful experience - they were so supportive and understanding," Nichols said. "I didn't feel as though I were walking into an office building, but getting help from caring people. They were awesome."
The EEOC experts told the reporters how harassment victims should handle the situation, starting with voicing clear opposition to the misconduct, reporting to workplace authorities and then to the EEOC when necessary.
The EEOC launched its "Youth@Work" initiative to combat this problem after noticing an apparent increase in harassment lawsuits involving teen workers across the country. Youth@Work is a national education and outreach campaign to protect and promote equal employment opportunity for America's next generation of workers. The campaign includes outreach and education activities for both employers and employees and partnerships with industry, education and human resource leaders. One such partnership was recently launched with the National Restaurant Association.
"We take your rights - and our responsibilities - very, very seriously," Chair Dominguez told the young audience.
The EEOC is the federal government civil rights agency that enforces the nation's employment anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov. Complete information about the Youth@Work campaign is available at http://youth.eeoc.gov/. The press packet for this event, including Amanda Nichols' story, is at http://youth.eeoc.gov/press_packet.html.
This page was last modified on December 16, 2004.
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