NEW YORK - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that it will open an area office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, July 30 - the agency's first office outside the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
This move was necessitated by the steady increase of employment discrimination charges in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, regions which the new office will serve. These areas were heretofore served by the EEOC's New York District Office, whose discrimination caseload has swelled in recent years. Puerto Rico showed a population of 3.8 million in the 2000 census. The latest available data (1990 census) show the U.S. Virgin Islands population is over 100,000. Thus Puerto Rico's population is larger than that of 30 U.S. states, including 12 states and the District of Columbia, which have EEOC area or field offices.
"America's Caribbean region is crying out for the kind of attention and protection that the EEOC can and should provide," said Commission Chairwoman Ida L. Castro.
"As the nation's premier federal civil rights enforcement agency, the EEOC should maintain an ongoing presence in the Caribbean," said Castro, adding that such a development would mirror that of other federal agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor has long had Wage and Hour Division field offices in San Juan and Mayaguez.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands' anti-discrimination statutes lack protection for employees against retaliation by employers if they complain about discrimination, whereas the EEOC enforces federal statutes which place a high priority on shielding workers from employer retaliation. Further, although federal and local employment anti-discrimination laws have been enforced in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the last 20 years through their respective departments of labor, there are various issues that these local agencies have not been able to address, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal employer issues, and discrimination concerns with state and local governments.
An office in San Juan will both relieve the pressure currently on the New York District Office and allow the Commission to promote civil rights at the workplace and address the cultural, linguistic, and economic environment in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The EEOC will continue to work in partnership with the Fair Employment Practices agencies in the region, and assist both employers and employees to understand their rights and responsibilities under the law.
The comparative shortage of job opportunities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands compared to the U.S. mainland further bolsters the need for an EEOC presence there. A recent study showed that Puerto Rico has a 14% unemployment in a work force of 1.3 million. This situation heightens the importance of fair and non-discriminatory access to the regions limited employment opportunities.
The San Juan Area Office will be staffed with investigators, attorneys and mediators to ensure fair and efficient investigation, resolution and, when necessary, litigation of discrimination charges. The office will have 14 employees during its first year and is expected to grow to 15-18 employees thereafter.
In addition to enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals who are 40 years of age or older; the Equal Pay Act; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the private sector and in state and local governments; and laws pertaining to disability discrimination in the federal government. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's Web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on July 18, 2001.
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