Employment Discrimination Is Sex-Blind

Article excerpt

America's workforce is changing rapidly, and by the year 2000:

* only one-eighth of the net workers will be white men;

* almost two-thirds of the net new workers will be women;

* almost one-thirds will be non-whites, primarily black women; and

* the average age of workers will rise to a new high.[1l.

In short, the workforce is becoming more diverse, creating a greater potential for employment discrimination. Discrimination adversely affects the individual, the co-workers, the organization, and ultimately the delivery of products and services to consumers.

Many believe discrimination to be a problem of women and minorities, and that is the focus most often presented by the media. While women do file more discrimination complaints than men, our research findings reveal that men and women have nearly the same discrimination experiences. This article discusses the legal concepts of employment discrimination, sources and patterns of claims, and strategies for confronting and preventing discrimination within a business organization.

What is Employment Discrimination

The primary defining legislation is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII mandates equal employment opportunity by providing that:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer: (a) to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. [Emphasis added.]

Each basis has been broadly interpreted; for example, "sex" applies to both men and women. In the authors' study, a male machine operator was fired after four months on the job. His female supervisor told the other 18 operators, all women, that, "I will get rid of him because I do not want any males in our department." The male operator had never missed work and had met all production standards.

By amendment, Title VII prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy (Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 1979). By court interpretation, sexual harassment and sexual stereotyping have also been included as illegal sex discrimination. The Act also prohibits retaliation against an employee who formally or informally claims employment discrimination. For example, an executive secretary in the study had worked for a V.P. for a short time. He fired her when he discovered that she had filed a discrimination claim against her former employer. The V.P. said, "I do not want a secretary who charges her boss with discrimination."

Three additional federal laws protect against age and disability discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act mirrors Title VII and extends the same protections to employees 40 years of age or older. The Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1973) only covers discrimination by federal contractors against employees with disabilities. To fill the gap, all the states have enacted statutes that protect most employees with disabilities. The newly enacted Americans with Disabilities Act (July 1992) extends Title VII-type protections to all workers with disabilities.

The theme of all anti-discrimination laws is that individuals are entitled to equal employment opportunities from recruitment to termination. These are dynamic, evolving legal concepts. Many employers and employees are uncertain about what policies or practices may violate these laws. Some guidance comes from court applications of anti-discrimination statutes to specific cases. During the 1988-89 U.S. Supreme Court term, the Court decided a series of cases that substantially reduced employers' vulnerability to discrimination lawsuits by making it more difficult for complainants to prevail. However, in November 1991, President Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, essentially reversing that series of Court decisions. …