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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Investigative Surveys Show Ongoing Workplace Racial Discrimination


More than one alarm has presented an indication that workplace discrimination continues to be a problem in the United States. A November 2015 survey sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN found that a third of Black Americans said they were the victims of racial  discrimination at some point in their lives which denied them opportunities in employment or housing. The results of this study found that 27 percent of  Black Americans  and 20 percent of Hispanics believed that they were denied a job they were qualified for because of their ethnic or racial background. When surveyed as whether they believed they were treated unfairly at their place of employment in the past 30 days due to their race racial or ethnic background, 26 percent of Blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics report being unfairly treated in the workplace because of their racial or ethnic identity during the past month.

Discrimination can be blatant or subtle. Both still exist. 

A case in point occurred in New York at a utility company where an African-American female worker claims she experienced discrimination as a result of both her race and her gender. Having trained as a utility worker in the field, she had mastered the electrical and utility pole climbing necessary for her job.

This case although first filed with the EEOC on November 30, 2009, only made its procedural way to the employee’s filing a lawsuit in Federal Court in NY on October 28, 2015, almost six years after filing with the EEOC.

Proving such cases is never easy. In the complaint filed in Federal Court, she alleged numerous incidents of harassment and humiliation, among them that in  the late 1990s, the employer failed to grant her access to the main entrance of the facility where she worked; and that she had to enter the building through the men's bathroom and endure countless occasions where her male colleagues exposed themselves to her while urinating. 

She alleged that she suffered much blatant obscene name calling in addition to physical harassment, racial and sexualized language used frequently and unabashedly by her male colleagues.  For example, in August 2007, a co-worker repeatedly joked about an offensive racial remark made on the radio about the Rutgers women's basketball team. When she objected to the racist jokes, he asked her, "You're not a nappy headed ho?" She reported the incident that same month to the company's EEO Department. Although she alleged that at least five other employees witnessed the incident, EEO claimed that no other employees could confirm her report.

Beyond this general exclusionary and insulting atmosphere, the employee alleged that she was subjected to serious employment discrimination, and that despite her hard work, her ambition and her good performance, she hardly advanced after 13 years and dozens of rejected applications, and in virtually every case of the employer utility company rejecting her applications for advancement, the successful applicant was a white male who was less qualified than her by experience, education or both. She alleged that the white men are promoted from entry level to first line management and further up on each step of the management ladder at a much faster pace than are Black women in general. 

In spite of the employee’s having accepted jobs to move up the ranks and her having earned, sequentially, an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a certificate in electrical engineering, the utility company repeatedly rejected her applications for higher positions. She stated in her complaint what was also disturbing was not only the employer utility company and her supervisors, but also her co-workers, the crew she worked with, which was otherwise white and male, discriminated against her in several ways. 

In November of  2009, she filed a Charge of Discrimination against the employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging unlawful race and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. She received a Finding of Probable Cause in 2011 and on August 19, 2015, the EEOC issued her a Notice of Right To Sue.

She filed a complaint in Federal District Court on October of 2015. In the complaint, she alleged that from September 2009 to April 2010, she applied for and was denied promotion to seven positions at the utility company for which she was qualified, and that she was not afforded even an interview for five positions, although she was at least as qualified as those to whom the employer did afford an interview. She interviewed for the other two positions and the rejection emails she received for these positions stated that another candidate demonstrate superior qualification or experience.

It can be daunting and discouraging for employees who are suffering discrimination, to have such long procedural requirements before a complaint for the lawsuit is filed, such as in this case where it has been six years since the employee first filed with the EEOC in 2009, and the dispute  only made its procedural way to a filing a lawsuit in Federal Court in NY in 2015. 

Fortunately for  New Jersey workers, New Jersey has a very strong state discrimination statute, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which does not require exhaustion of administrative filing and filing with the EEOC,  before you can sue in Court. Workers in New Jersey who believe they are the victims of illegal race discrimination in the workplace, can file a state lawsuit directly in New Jersey Superior Court, without having to go first through the EEOC filing procedures.

Every situation is fact specific, and if you are a person who believes you may be the victim  of the employer's illegal race or ethnic  discrimination, or if you were terminated and believe your race or ethnicity  may have been a factor, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law, today for a free consultation.

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