Growing Immigrant and Ethnic Populations Require Nuanced Approaches to Enforcement of Anti-Discrimination Laws, Panel of Experts Tells Commission
WASHINGTON- The diversity, size and cultural individuality of different ethnic and immigrant groups present challenges to compliance with and enforcement of the nation's anti-discrimination in employment laws, a panel of experts told members of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at a public meeting held today. The panelists represented diverse stakeholders, including EEOC employees, representatives of major ethnic advocacy groups and management-side attorneys.
"The U.S. labor force is dynamic, diverse and multi-cultural," said EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien. "In prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seeks to ensure that all individuals have equal employment opportunities, and that employers - and the national economy as a whole - can take advantage of the full range of the skills and talents they have to offer. This meeting provides the Commission with the opportunity to consider how we can best advance our mission to stop and remedy unlawful discrimination based on national origin."
National origin discrimination is different from other forms of discrimination because it involves not only a person's place of birth or origin of ancestors, but also cultural or linguistic characteristics, according to panelist Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project.
While individuals who speak up about discrimination face the same sorts of retaliation as others, for certain immigrants there is the additional "devastating" use of the "deportation card"-when individuals are threatened with deportation or examination of their immigration status as a threat to keep them from complaining about discrimination, Smith noted, a problem that was also mentioned by Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).
"National origin discrimination--whether it takes the form of harassment against farm workers, segregation of Vietnamese workers in lower-paying factory jobs, or not hiring a qualified applicant from Iran because she didn't conform to a retailer's preferred image--should be tackled through coordinated enforcement, outreach, and training efforts" said Commissioner Jenny R. Yang who helped organize the meeting. "We are confident that the Commission will benefit from the information obtained today."
Many panelists highlighted the growing percentage of immigrants in the workforce, as well as the dispersion of immigrant populations from traditional centers in the Southwest, West and a few large cities in the East and Midwest, to smaller cities throughout the U.S. which have seen their immigrant populations double and triple in the past twenty years.
In addition to its litigation efforts, the EEOC has many tools to combat national origin discrimination, Lucila Rosas, Lead Coordinator of the EEOC's Immigrant Worker Team, told the Commission. These include a Spanish-language website and Twitter feed, fact sheets and other materials in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, and bi-lingual employees throughout the country, speaking languages most commonly found in the geographic area.
The multi-cultural workplace presents challenges for employers, Douglas Farmer, an attorney representing management, testified. Cultural norms in an employee's background may make it difficult for a man to accept supervision from a woman for example. Farmer cited the need for extensive education about both rights and responsibilities under the law. He suggested that the EEOC develop training modules in a variety of languages as well as a model anti-harassment policy, and make them available on its website for employers to download.
The Commission will hold open the National Origin Commission meeting record for 15 days, and invites audience members, as well as other members of the public, to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed at the meeting. Public comments may be mailed to Commission Meeting, EEOC Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507, or e-mailed to: Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.
The comments submitted will be made available to members of the Commission and to Commission staff working on the matters discussed at the meeting. In addition, comments may be disclosed to the public. By providing comments in response to this solicitation, commenters are consenting to their use and consideration by the Commission and to their public dissemination. Accordingly, those submitting comments should not include any information that they would not want made public, e.g., home address, telephone number, etc. Also note that when comments are submitted by e-mail, the sender's e-mail address automatically appears on the message.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information about the EEOC, including panelists' statements, biographies and a transcript of this meeting, can be found at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/index.cfm.