Panel of Practitioners At Miami Meeting Of the EEOC Says Despite Positive Advances, Fight For Equal Treatment in Employment Far From Over
MIAMI - Despite significant progress in the 50 years since the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) first opened its doors in 1965, the problems of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities remain a reality in 21st century America, a panel of experts told the Commissioners of the EEOC at a meeting held at Miami Dade College today.
This is the first public Commission meeting held outside of Washington, D.C. in more than a decade. The Commission took the step of meeting in Miami due, in part, to the multicultural and ethnically diverse population in south Florida, and the wide range of employers in the state, from agriculture, to tourism, to multinational corporations.
"Over the past 50 years, the Commission has made great strides in promoting equal employment opportunity for America's workers," said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. "Never before in our nation's history has the American workplace been more diverse and inclusive than it is today. Yet, across the country, we continue to see persistent barriers to opportunity based on race, color and national origin. At the EEOC, we are working every day to remove these barriers to achieve broad and sustained compliance with our anti-discrimination laws."
Barbara Arnwine, President and CEO of the national Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, urged the EEOC "to exercise leadership in bringing the multiple factors" of race and gender to light as "the legal framework necessary to effectively address racial and gender bias is still developing." In noting the discriminatory impact of background screening on African Americans, she recognized that "employers promote fair treatment for all employees, regardless of race, when they follow the evidence-based employment policies that the EEOC recommends to ensure that they apply job-related standards when they hire new workers, or evaluate existing workers or former workers."
The EEOC's Enforcement Guidance on Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions "has had a transformational impact on" one major barrier to employment, said Robert Weisberg, regional attorney in the EEOC's Miami district office responsible for the agency's Florida litigation. "Human resource personnel have reexamined their criminal background screening practices due to the guidance," he said. "The EEOC's work in this area has benefitted many black and Hispanic job applicants who would otherwise have been excluded from consideration solely based on prior arrests or convictions."
Victoria Mesa-Estrada, an attorney who represents low wage workers and previously worked at the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Florida, reported that 58 percent of Latinos say that discrimination in the workplace is a problem. She emphasized the importance of the EEOC having investigators trained to deal with cultural issues and expanding its outreach to vulnerable populations such as farmworkers.
Iliana Castillo-Frick, Vice Provost of Human Resources at Miami Dade College and speaking on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted that a way to break down barriers was for organizations to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity-not just adherence to the law. It is crucial for the head of an organization to communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion, reaching out to different employee groups, setting goals and analyzing whether those goals have been met.
Donald Livingston, a partner in the management firm of Akin Gump and a former general counsel of the EEOC, also emphasized the need to make diversity a corporate priority. This should include monitoring job-related practices in hiring and promotion for potential disparate impact. Where possible, a company should use alternative or modified practices that have less of a disparate impact on a given group. Associated with this, he urged the EEOC to take on the "long overdue" task of "renovation of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures," which have been in place since 1978, predating the computer era and modern methods of employee selections, to say nothing of a vastly changed workplace.
Those modern methods of job selection include some form of online screening, Kathleen Lundquist, an industrial organizational psychologist, told the Commission. Today, 81 percent of organizations use some sort of online screening assessment before there is some form of human interaction. These assessments can be designed to have more job relevance, with less of a disparate impact, reducing barriers to employment for racial and ethnic minorities.
Dr. William Spriggs, Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO and professor of economics at Howard University, also spoke of the transformative effect the civil rights laws had on expanding employment opportunities, particularly in the south, where African Americans were finally able to obtain higher-paying jobs in manufacturing. Despite the progress that has been made, overall unemployment for African Americans still is double today what it is for whites. He pointed out that, at the start of the 21st century, more college degrees in computer science were awarded to African American than whites; however, during the downturn in the economy, in 2008-09, when African Americans lost computer-related jobs, almost 750,000 H1-B visas were issued, mostly in the fields of computer science, to bring in workers from overseas, contributing to black unemployment.
The testimony and biographies of the witnesses are available on the EEOC's website, and a video and a transcript of the meeting will be available next week. The Commission will hold open the 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 emailed to: Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.
The public 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 publicly disclosed on the EEOC's public website, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, or in the Commission's library. By providing public comments in response to this solicitation, commenters are consenting to their use and consideration by the Commission and to their public dissemination. Accordingly, commenters should not include any information in submitted comments 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 the nation's law prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.