Post-9/11 Discrimination. (Risk Reporter)

Article excerpt

Before September 11, the discrimination programs that Jeffrey Pasek helped his corporate clients implement focused on racial issues. But since the attacks, a spike in claims of workplace discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans has changed the focus.

"We're seeing these programs broadened to include religious and ethnic concerns," says Pasek, who chairs the employment and labor law group of Cozen O'Connor in Philadelphia. Now, discrimination programs often include educational campaigns on Islamic practices, invigorated zero-tolerance harassment policies and efforts to accommodate the religious needs of Muslims.

"After 9/11, we saw a lot of positive steps," says Hodan Hassan, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). For instance, she says, requests for CAIR's publication, The Employer's Guide to Islamic Practices, have increased seven-fold since September 11. "There were attempts made by employers--posting signs, bringing in speakers for lunchtime lectures."

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers standardized tests like the SAT and GRE, held such a lecture last spring at its Princeton, New Jersey, headquarters. The seminar, entitled "Islam and the U.S.," was delivered to ETS staff by a Princeton University Near Eastern studies professor.

Employers are taking these steps to ward off violations of their employees' civil rights, which the post-September 11 backlash put pressure on them to protect. While the number of workplace discrimination claims peaked in the weeks following the attacks, they continued in high numbers throughout the year. From September 11, 2001, through May 7, 2002, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 497 charges of discrimination against Muslims, 2.5 times as many charges as those fielded during the same period in the prior year. The risk of litigation from these charges has put employers on the defensive, forcing them to review their discrimination policies and safeguards against harassment.

Government agencies, like the EEOC, which distributed fact sheets on accommodating Islamic religious practices after the attacks, gave employers further encouragement. …