Equal Employment Opportunity: Mission Accomplished, or Bream Deferred?

By Vertreace, Walter | Diversity Employers, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Equal Employment Opportunity: Mission Accomplished, or Bream Deferred?


Vertreace, Walter, Diversity Employers


EQUALITY IN EMPLOYMENT TODAY

In almost every help-wanted advertisement or job announcement these days, the words "an equal opportunity employer" or some similar phrase will appear. With most major employers claiming that status, it may seem that the problem of employment discrimination has been solved and that applicants are considered for hiring or promotion based solely on their qualifications, with race not being a factor. Armed with college degrees and high ambitions, many of today's minority graduates believe race is now irrelevant, and that the content of their resumes, if not their character, will be the only basis of evaluation.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The evidence for such a rosy view of the employment picture seems overwhelming. Today we have an African-American President of the United States, and Black presence at senior levels of the federal government. African Americans and other minorities seem to be well represented among general officers in the military, among highly visible corporate officials, and when law enforcement, fire and other emergency services personnel are interviewed in the media. The mission of providing equal opportunity for all Americans appears to have finally been accomplished. Unfortunately, both history and current events tell us that this is not the reality.

The fact is that discrimination, particularly on the basis of race, is still alive and well in America. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing federal employment anti-discrimination laws, reports that the number of charges of discrimination filed against private employers has increased by about 13,000. That's the largest single-year increase since 1993. As of 2008, the most common allegation, claimed in more than one-third of the complaints, was discrimination based on race.

THE CHALLENGE YOUR GRANDPARENTS FACED

There was a time when employment advertising, even in respected, mainstream newspapers, was placed in separate categories: "Help Wanted - Male" and "Help Wanted - Female." Invariably, the "female" jobs were in less lucrative office and clerical jobs, while the better paying positions, and particularly those requiring mechanical aptitude, were reserved for males. Such overt discrimination, common before federal law and public opinion made it objectionable, became less acceptable as penalties stiffened. For African Americans, however, the "Negroes Need Not Apply" sign simply went underground, replaced by forms of bias that were more subtle, but no less damaging.

Some employers used tests for hiring or promotion that screened out African Americans at a higher rate than white applicants, making it nearly impossible for them to be hired in any substantial numbers. Some employers restricted transfer opportunities, so that Black employees with seniority could not transfer to higher paying departments without forfeiting their seniority and the benefits that went along with that seniority.

These early manifestations of discrimination were addressed decades ago after many brave people fought for change. U.S. Supreme Court decisions helped bring about those changes. As a result, many people who believed their rights had been trampled upon took up the challenge, and the risk, to fight for equality, and that fight continues today.

THE CHALLENGE OF CORRECTIVE ACTION

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent Congress the bill that ultimately became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ultimately passed in 1964, after he was assassinated, the provisions of the Act prohibited employment discrimination by any employer having more than 100 employees. The best-known of the proscriptions against employment discrimination, Title VII of the Act, was not the first attempt in this nation to provide legal protection to African-American job-seekers.

Before Kennedy, President Roosevelt issued executive orders prohibiting employment discrimination in defense contracting and later under federal contracts in general. …

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