Employment Discrimination

Every employee has the right to be treated fairly at work, regardless of his or her age, gender, race, disability, beliefs or sexual orientation. Discrimination, which occurs when a person is treated differently from others, might not be as overt as it was in the past in the United States as there are laws prohibiting it, although it is sometimes a significant factor when applicants are considered for hiring or promotion.

In the past, employers placed advertising in separate categories for men and women. The jobs for women were in less lucrative office and clerical jobs, while men got better-paid and often higher-level professional positions. When federal law and public opinion made such discrimination objectionable it became less common and acceptable.

For some African-Americans, forms of bias that were more subtle replaced discrimination. For example, there were tests used by some employers that screened out African-Americans at a higher rate than white candidates, which made it almost impossible for them to be hired in substantial numbers. Transfer opportunities were restricted by some firms and African-American employees with seniority had to forfeit their status and benefits. As many people fought for change, this discrimination was addressed.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued federal orders that prohibited employment discrimination. As a result, participation of African-Americans in the defense workforce during the war years increased. Later, Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower issued similar orders. However, in 1963 it was President John F. Kennedy who sent Congress the bill that would ultimately become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The provisions of the Act prohibited employment discrimination by any employer with more than 100 employees. The Act banned discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin. It opened up access to public accommodation and enforced voting rights and desegregated public education.

The employment provision, known as Title VII, also prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender. Originally Title VII applied only to private employers and excluded educational institutions. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 provided equal pay for equal work on the basis of sex, but it originally exempted professional, administrative and executive positions. In 1972, Congress amended both statutes and those exemptions were eliminated, while the enforcement of the statutes was strengthened.

In 1991, Title VII was amended once again and Congress added the right to jury trials and provided for monetary awards for victims of intentional discrimination. Title VII also set up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This federal administrative agency has five Commissioners appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the senate. The EEOC is in charge of the development of equal employment opportunity policy.

The general counsel of the EEOC is authorized to bring cases alleging discrimination against employers. The agency provides a non-judicial administrative process for individuals filing complaints. It dismisses many complaints routinely, although it investigates some of them. It also determines if there is reasonable cause to believe the charge is true and tries to eliminate the unlawful employment practice using informal methods of conciliation.

Even before the Act was passed, President Kennedy made it clear that companies would need not only to open doors that had previously been closed, but they would have to ensure they included those who had been excluded due to discrimination. In Executive Order 10925, Kennedy required affirmative action to be taken by federal contractors to ensure that employers hire applicants and treat employees during employment without regard to race, creed, color or national origin. As a result, employers were warned they must ensure equal treatment of all staff.

When a person evaluates potential employers, it is important to know the company's position on such important social issues as equal employment opportunity, workforce diversity and affirmative action. If the organization recognizes these issues as serious priorities and has programs in place to address them, there is more chance of having a positive work experience.

If the firm only grudgingly complies with the law and takes no affirmative steps in order to ensure there are equal opportunities, discrimination is not only a possibility but very likely. Despite the fact that laws regulations exist, at some point everyone may experience discrimination at the workplace. They could also experience discrimination in any attempt to obtain employment.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Equality, Diversity and Disadvantage in Employment
Mike Noon; Emmanuel Ogbonna.
Palgrave, 2001
Challenging the Myths of Fair Employment Practices
Richard S. Barrett.
Quorum Books, 1998
Discrimination at Work: The Psychological and Organizational Bases
Robert L. Dipboye; Adrienne Colella.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy
Cynthia Estlund.
Oxford University Press, 2003
New Approaches to Economic and Social Analyses of Discrimination
Richard R. Cornwall.
Praeger, 1991
Whistleblower Law: A Guide to Legal Protections for Corporate Employees
Stephen M. Kohn; Michael D. Kohn; David K. Colapinto.
Praeger, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Proof of Discrimination: The Contributing Factor Test"
Organizational Downsizing, Discrimination and Corporate Social Responsibility
Zeinab A. Karake-Shalhoub.
Quorum Books, 1999
A Union of Formalism and Flexibility: Allowing Employers to Set Their Own Liability under Federal Employment Discrimination Laws
Creasy, Darren M.
William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 3, February 2003
Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality
Raymond F. Gregory.
Rutgers University Press, 2003
Race and Gender Discrimination at Work
Samuel Cohn.
Westview Press, 2000
Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks Exclude Black Men from Blue-Collar Jobs
Deirdre A. Royster.
University of California Press, 2003
The Impact of Age on Employment Tenure: Results from an Employment Discrimination Case
Rosenbaum, David I.
Journal of Forensic Economics, Vol. 13, No. 3, Fall 2000
Age Discrimination in the American Workplace: Old at a Young Age
Raymond F. Gregory.
Rutgers University Press, 2001
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