Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: My son operates a respected service business. He employs competent and personable technicians to provide installation and repair services at clients’ residences. Each time a certain valued client receives service, he calls and without voicing any complaint, asks that a particular service technician not be sent to his home again. The pattern of calls makes it quite clear that the client does not want any African-American technicians to come to his residence. This has created both scheduling and morale issues for my son’s staff. Must the company honor the client’s wishes? — UNEASY ISSUE
DEAR UNEASY: To answer your question, I turned to the Manhattan office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces anti-discrimination statutes in the workplace.
The office said it couldn’t offer a direct answer to your query because it doesn’t know all the facts of your son’s situation. But the information it provided, including some insightful examples, clearly shows that it would be illegal for your son to deny his African-American workers certain assignments to satisfy the client.
Here’s a little background from the Manhattan office about cases involving allegations of racial discrimination. They generally fall into one of two categories — disparate treatment or disparate impact. Disparate-treatment bias occurs when race is a motivating factor in how an individual is treated. Disparate-impact bias occurs when “a neutral policy or practice has a significant negative impact on one or more protected groups, and either the policy or practice is not job-related and consistent with business necessity or there is a less discriminatory alternative and the employer has refused to adopt it.”
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from basing their employment decisions on such things as race, skin color, gender, religion or national origin. The statute applies to companies with at least 15 employees. (The state Division of Human Rights enforces anti-bias laws at companies with at least four employees.)
“Assignments that are made according to race and based on customer preference violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” said Michael Rojas, outreach and education coordinator in the Manhattan office.
Here are some examples the office provided to shed more light on what constitutes racial discrimination in the workplace:
- An employer admits that it usually assigns black and Asian-American salespersons to sales territories with a high percentage of blacks and Asian-Americans. The employer shows that he does not harbor ill will toward either group. Instead, the employer believes the company will better serve sales territories with a high percentage of blacks and Asian-Americans, and thus increase company sales and boost the careers of its minority employees. Charges are filed by employees who want the opportunity to work in territories regardless of the areas’ racial makeup. The employer has violated Title VII, which prohibits employers from depriving employees of employment opportunities by limiting, segregating or classifying them on the basis of race.
- The employer is a home health-care agency that hires aides to assist elderly, disabled or ill people. The agency has a mostly white clientele who prefer white aides. Gladys, an African-American aide at another agency, applies for a job. She is well qualified and has received excellent performance reviews in her current position. The prospective employer wants to hire Gladys, but ultimately decides not to because it believes its clientele will not be comfortable with an African-American aide. The employer has violated Title VII because customer preference is not a defense to race discrimination.
I hope this information will prove helpful to your son. He can go to eeoc.gov for more details.