Upmc vs. Fair Hiring the Health Care Giant Is Putting at Risk a Pillar of Civil Rights Protection

Article excerpt

As we reflect on the long history of struggle for civil rights in America, it is disturbing to know that UPMC - Pennsylvania's largest private employer and the Pittsburgh region's largest provider of health care - is trying to roll back historic civil rights protections that have helped reduce employment discrimination across the country. Despite UPMC's stated commitment to providing equal opportunities for women and people of color, it is pursuing a legal challenge that has, sadly, turned the health care giant into an enemy of civil rights.

Although UPMC's brazen move has alarmed leading women's, civil rights and workers' groups, UPMC denies anything very serious is happening. What is really going on, and why are organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Women's Law Project and the American Civil Liberties Union demanding that UPMC withdraw its legal challenge?

Since 1965, our country has required that businesses that work for the federal government adhere to fair-hiring practices. We're not talking about quotas. We're talking about making sure that federal contractors don't discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender or race and by requiring that they document their hiring processes and results. These rules, which have over the years been upheld by the courts, have helped diversify workforces and make them more reflective of local communities.

Several years ago, UPMC received a multimillion-dollar contract to provide care to federal workers who live in the Pittsburgh region. But when selected for a compliance review in 2004, UPMC first refused to answer basic questions about its hiring practices and then refused to allow the government to conduct a routine inspection.

At first, UPMC claimed it is not a subcontractor. But three levels of judges said that it is, including administrative law judges in the U.S. Department of Labor (during the Bush administration) and a U.S. District Court judge.

Having lost its earlier arguments, UPMC decided to attack equal opportunity itself and now argues that the entire law is unconstitutional. This law has been upheld and enforced by any number of courts and has been promoted by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. By raising this aggressive challenge, UPMC threatens to eradicate vital workplace protections that have been in effect for nearly 50 years. …