The realm of employment discrimination law has been a hotbed for controversy concerning some of our most vulnerable groups for decades. Current events show no exceptions. Whether its sizing up the differences of opinion concerning freedom of religion and the rights of the LGBT community or protecting ex-cons from the unfair use of criminal background checks, employment discrimination carries with it some of the hottest topics and issues across the country.
Also hot around the country is the not-so-shocking round of research recently released showing rampant discrimination against disabled individuals individual in the workplace. One study showed tremendous bias against disabled workers in the accounting industry even when the perceived disability, Asperger’s Syndrome and autism, may have been an asset to the prospective position.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department settled its discrimination case against Bolivar County in Mississippi to the tune of $100,000. The County fired a correctional facility office after he disclosed that he had diabetes, ignoring his 20-year career history as a qualified applicant for the position.
This case brings up another hot subtopic within the arena of disability discrimination involving the decision to disclose disabilities to employers. The amount of bias and prejudice against disabilities is notably affects and limits the employment options of those who have disabilities. Some are deciding employment chances are better if those disabilities are not disclosed to employers.
Ageism and Racial Inequality in the Workplace
Still lurking in the periphery of employment discrimination cases and controversy are the age-old biases against mature workers and people of color in the workplace. Even as workers over 40, protected by Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, struggle to find work after layoffs and cutbacks in Social Security, employers are still using bias to make employment decisions, often exposing themselves to costly liability in so doing.
The country’s ongoing trials and tribulations with racism and police brutality seem staunchly related to the ongoing saga of racial employment discrimination as well. Recently, a report found that workers in the restaurant industry are subject to Jim Crow-esque racial discrimination, with African American women taking the hardest hits. Black women, though the best educated in the country, still make as much as 71% less than their white male counterparts in the restaurant industry.
LGBT Employment Discrimination
Just recently, the EEOC determined in authoritative rulings that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in all 50 states. Even with the absence of federal legislation, EEOC dictates carry much weight. The agency is the primary source of representation concerning issues of Title VII and almost every other anti-discrimination law in the U.S.
This comes on the curtails of a growing number of states and localities passing laws meant to specifically protect workers in the LGBT community from employment discrimination and harassment. While some localities are vehemently deciding against protections for LGBT discrimination, as illustrated in the recent controversies in Houston, TX, others are embracing it.
Cities like Dallas, TX are updating their anti-discrimination laws to apply to sexual orientation discrimination and states are passing legislation that closely resembles the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, proposed federal law in support of LGBT protection which passed in the Senate, but has since stalled in the House.
The trend toward enacting LGBT anti-discrimination at the state and local level in the absence of federal law has seen pushback from opponents, however, usually with the intent of protecting religious freedoms and strongly held convictions.
States like Arkansas have enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) in an effort to protect rights to provide remedies for abuses of religious protections. Some states, like Texas, with RFRAs already on the books, have taken steps this year to intensify those protections for even further protection. Additionally, some states are making sure that localities do not enact extra protections for LGBT workers by passing laws that prevent amendments and updates to current employment discrimination law.
As a sidenote to the sexual orientation debacles, gender identity is also a hot topic. Of the states that do address sexual orientation as a basis for employment discrimination, not all of them also recognize gender identity as an area worthy of protection. Transgender status and legal protection of transgender workers has also cropped up concerning an employer’s ability to dictate the kind of restrooms workers can use. The issue has triggered a round of so-called “bathroom bills” around the country.
‘Ban the Box’
President Obama took action recently that brought up yet another hot topic in employment discrimination – ‘ban the box’ legislation and policy. The “box” here refers to the familiar checkbox on most employment applications requiring applicants to indicate whether they have been previously convicted of a crime. Proponents of ban the box legislation argue that the requirement discriminates against ex-cons, a group consisting largely of minority and low-income workers.
President Obama recently signed an Executive Order for ‘ban the box’ regulations that would make the question of past convictions appear much later in the hiring process for applicants seeking federal government jobs.
Sexism is nothing new in the workplace, and employment discrimination laws like the prohibition of sex discrimination in Title VII as well as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act have surfaced as primary protection against it. State and local laws, too, operate in support of protecting women against against unfair exclusion, harassment, retaliation and wage gaps in every industry.
Perhaps, the most notable and recent case involving women’s equal rights in the workplace is that of Ellen Pao, the tech exec that exposed the rate of sexism in the tech industry by suing her former employer and tech venture capitalist firm, Kleiner Perkins. Although Pao lost her sex discrimination claim and decided not to appeal, the lawsuit has opened the door for similar suits against tech companies in the industry where women struggle against traditional glass ceiling and ‘boys’ club’ rubrics.