Code Words Equal Discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a class action against Area Temps, alleging that the temporary agency had honored some of its clients’ requests to deny employment on the basis of race, age, gender, and national origin. To meet its client’s requests, Area Temps devised a code to screen out applicants. The code was used to make sure the agency didn’t place the wrong person at a client that had indicated a preference.
The EEOC had evidence that Area Temps used the following code: “hockey player” for white males; “basketball player” for black males; “small hands” for females; and “chocolate cupcake” for young black females. It’s a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for temporary agencies to succumb to client demands like these. It’s also a violation for employers to demand this kind of a selection process.
Area Temps settled the case by paying $650,000 and entering into a consent decree requiring Area Temps to put into place procedures and policies to make sure this kind of thing never happens again. In addition, the company was required to post a notice of the consent decree for its employees to see and to send a letter to all its clients informing them that it would not use unlawful criteria in the selection of employees. Two clients of Area Temps have been sued by the EEOC for discrimination, and those cases are still pending.
It’s a little hard to believe that employers and temporary agencies still use the practice of code words in an effort to skirt the law. Obviously, though, the practice is alive and well. It’s also certain to form the basis for a discrimination lawsuit. The practice creates evidence that proves discrimination. It’s much easier to simply comply with the law.