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MDRC News/ Blog
By Julia Feinberg, AAPD Policy Intern
On Wednesday June 22, 2011, AAPD attended the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) meeting on “Disparate Treatment in 21st Century Hiring Decisions,” held in Washington, D.C. The EEOC is chaired by Jacqueline Berrien with Stuart Ishimaru, Constance Barker, Chai Feldblum, and Victoria Lipnic as Commissioners. The meeting looked at how discrimination during the hiring process affects minorities, including people with disabilities. Nine witnesses were called to provide evidence and discuss the impacts of disparate hiring practices.
During the opening statements, all Commissioners noted that working is not only important financially but also for an individual’s sense of self-worth and connection to their community. They also noted the difficulty of reporting and getting information to people who have been discriminated against in the workforce. It was discussed many times during the hearing that often people do not know they have been victims of hiring discrimination.
Recent Cases: EEOC General Counsel David Lopez described a successful court case where two deaf men were refused employment by Wal-Mart. The Courts ruled in the men’s favor and, as part of the settlement, a television ad was played for several weeks promoting the employment of people with disabilities. This ad was shown in the hearing and had a visible affect on the Commissioners. Lopez also described a clip from an ABC show “What Would You Do?” where two deaf women applied to be kitchen workers in a café and were refused jobs. While some customers stood up to the discrimination they saw, others gave the manager legal advice saying he should have accepted their applications and not called them instead of outright saying he wouldn’t hire them because they were deaf. These “advisors” were professional recruiters and managers.
The first two panels focused on “silent discrimination,” where the employer doesn’t outright say or show that he or she is discriminating. This was a recurrent topic throughout the meeting. It especially came up during discussion of contingency or temporary staffing agencies, that is, companies that match employers with employees looking for work. Since hiring laws are different for the contingency agencies, many companies can get away with discriminatory hiring practices by using these types of companies.
Bill Lann Lee, an attorney at Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker, & Jackson on the first panel called this “covert discrimination.” Grace Speights, attorney at Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius, and Katherine Kores, an EEOC District Director in Memphis were also on the first panel. The second panel was composed of Supervising Trial Attorneys Kate Boehringer and Diane Smason at the EEOC Baltimore and Chicago offices, respectively, with Ana Lopez and Jeannette Wilkins as Charging Party Members in two major EEOC cases. This panel highlighted the real life challenges of workforce discrimination and gave an in-depth look at how companies use covert discrimination.
Research and Training Issues
Marc Bendick from Bendick & Eagan Economic Consultants and General Counsel Rae Vann from the Equal Employment Advisory Council, a non-profit employer association, discussed discrimination research and training on the third and last panel. Bendick provided staggering statistics about the prevalence of discrimination in the workforce and also specific industries that were especially “hard core discriminators.” For instance, he said that 20-25 % of people have encountered hiring discrimination across all fields of the workforce. Advertising and construction industries were among the worst with about 67% discriminating against applicants.
Vann concluded the meeting by outlining the training programs that the EEAC has developed over the past few decades to reduce workplace discrimination. The hope is to change the attitude within all offices so that anti-discrimination is company policy, not just federal law.
Technology Must Be Accessible to All, Feds Reaffirm
Posted: 26 May 2011 04:17 AM PDT
In a letter today, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights again emphasized that schools and universities must be sure that any technological device they use must be accessible to students with disabilities.
Less than a year ago, the OCR and the Department of Justice's civil rights division sent colleges and universities a "Dear Colleague" letter that warned that using electronic book readers that lack a function that reads all words aloud for students with vision problems could be considered discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That letter came on the heels of settlements over ebook readers between the Department of Justice and several universities, including Princeton, Pace University in New York, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and Reed College in Portland, Oregon. More recently, a settlement was reached with the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business over the same issue.
In today's letter, which specifically includes elementary and secondary school leaders, the Office of Civil Rights wrote more broadly about ensuring the accessibility of all types of emerging technology.
"As the use of emerging technologies in the classroom increases, schools at all levels must ensure equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of the technology for all students, including students with disabilities," wrote Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the Department of Education.
Her office has received at least 28 complaints involving technology since 2008. Most of those have involved colleges and universities.
Schools need to "think about on the front end whether the device is fully accessible," Ms. Ali said in an interview. "What we're trying to do is provide institutions counsel no matter what comes down the pike. Who could have seen a decade ago the way that technology has been revolutionized today?"
She pointed out that just because a classroom has no students with vision problems doesn't mean the technology doesn't have to be accessible. The class may have a student with a specific learning disability that may make it difficult to get information from printed sources. So along with the letter, schools have been provided with answers to 15 frequently asked questions about making technology accessible to all students, including those with print disabilities.
"Technology can be an incredible asset," Ms. Ali said. "If it's used to further the achievement gap and further the opportunity gap...we should prevent that on the front end."
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