Reverse Discrimination? The Court Says No

Reverse DiscriminationReverse discrimination? Male prison guards performing strip searches on female inmates is an issue just asking for a lawsuit, right? The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) needed a strong response to the lack of female correctional officers, and to a growing number of lawsuits involving the abuse and harassment of female inmates by their male prison guards. Complaints ranging from privacy breaches to sexual abuse were not uncommon. Authorities assigned the primary cause to the severe deficiency of female correctional officers in women’s prisons. The result was that male officers were responsible for sensitive duties, including supervising showers and performing pat-downs and other potentially delicate duties.

In response to this problem, officials designated 110 corrections positions as female-only, only to be slapped with a lawsuit from the Teamsters Union, claiming discrimination against male corrections officers. The Teamsters claimed that creating positions specifically for female officers was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, in that males were denied jobs purely based on gender.

Reverse discrimination? The 9th Circuit Court found that the deliberation behind the decision to create female positions was sound. Because the DOC had undergone extensive study, including consultation with other states, expert soundings, case law reviews, and Human Rights Commission reviews, the decision to make the gender-specific positions was ruled not discriminatory, as gender was, indeed, a bona-fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the positions created.

Bona-Fide Occupational Qualification in Federal Law

Clearly, gender cannot be a disqualifier for hiring, promotion, or advancement in the majority of cases. On the other hand, a clear exception to Title VII regulations exists when sex is essential to a particular job. Hence, the BFOQ stipulations: They are narrowly applied, but deemed necessary in cases such as the corrections department scenario.

Employers need note that BFOQ is not an easy way out of hiring women for jobs that may traditionally be considered “men’s work.” Stereotypes, assumptions, or simple preferences are not acceptable arguments to use in denying employment based on gender.

Reverse Discrimination and Affirmative Action Programs

Many companies may have affirmative action goals designed to encourage a diverse workforce.  These may be used to strive for parity, but actual quota systems are unlawful unless specifically court-ordered to rectify discriminatory practices.

It is noteworthy, however, that the Supreme Court has found that merit-based evaluations may, in fact, reflect evaluator bias. In an affirmative action plan that gave promotional preference to a woman who had scored marginally lower than her male counterpart, the court found that since the interviewers were all male, and one had a history of sexually degrading speech, the promotion was proper.

In truth, although there are detractors who believe reverse discrimination is a serious problem in our country, fewer than 2% of discrimination cases pending before the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission might be categorized as such. That is because affirmative action plans are designed to assist individuals who already have germane qualifications. [Read more…]

Will California’s Equal Pay Law Be Amended to Include Race?

Equal Pay LawWill California’s equal pay law be amended to include race? California employers should already be familiar with the state’s Fair Pay Act, which prohibits them from paying employees lower wages than employees of the opposite gender who perform substantially similar work. The law, which took effect on January 1, 2016, is considered the strictest of its kind in the nation.

Racial disparities may soon be prohibited, in addition to gender disparities. State Senator Isadore Hall has introduced legislation that applies similar prohibitions with regards to race. If Senate Bill No. 1063 becomes law, an employer may not pay employees lower rates than employees of other races or ethnicities for performing substantially similar work – with certain exceptions.

The Bill’s Specifications

The bill does not state that all employees must receive the same salaries paid to colleagues of other races that hold the same position. Rather, it prohibits employers from paying their employees lower salaries than other employees of other races or ethnicities performing substantially similar work (when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility), unless an employer can demonstrate a valid reason for the wage differential.

If you are wondering what would be considered a valid reason, the legislation provides guidance. Racial wage disparities would not be in violation if an employer can show that they are based on either:

  • A seniority system
  • A merit system
  • A system based on the quantity or quality of an employee’s production, or
  • A bona fide factor other than race or ethnicity.

The legislation also specifies that a factor will only be considered bona fide if it is not related to race or ethnicity, if it is related to the employee’s particular job, and if it is “consistent with a business necessity.” Also, if the employee who is making a complaint can show that there is a different practice that would satisfy the business necessity without a racial pay disparity, then the factor will not be considered bona fide.

The bill gives examples of the types of factors that could qualify. These include education, training and experience.

What Would Happen to Employers Who Violate the Equal Pay Law?

Employers who violate the law would be liable for damages to employees who have been affected by the wage disparities. They would be required to pay the employees for their lost wages, along with interest, and an additional equal amount of liquidated damages.

The legislation also specifies that an employee who is entitled to these damages would also be entitled to compensation for the costs of their suit, and reasonable attorney’s fees. In order to recover damages under a civil action, the action must be commenced within two years of when the discrimination occurs – unless there has been a willful violation, in which case the action must be commenced within three years. [Read more…]

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