Articles Posted in Race Discrimination

According to an April 25th article in the Hartford Courant, last year, employees filed nearly 100,000 complaints of workplace discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – “an all-time high.”

More than 33,000 complaints were specifically for retaliation, which has now surpassed “racial discrimination” as the number one EEOC complaint. The EEOC also received high numbers of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, disability and national origin, and religious discrimination complaints last year.

A spokesperson for Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), Jim O’Neill, blamed the spike on the recession: “The economy is bad and people are desperate not to lose their jobs, so they are filing complaints they would not necessarily have made in the past.”

New research out of Penn State University suggests that African Americans who suffer from racial discrimination will experience an increased likelihood of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at some point in their lives. William A. Smith, a Professor at University of Utah, coined the term “racial battle fatigue” to describe the similarities between the chronic debilitating effects of race discrimination and the debilitating effects of war time stresses.

“Racial battle fatigue” manifests both physically and psychologically. Psychologically, victims may suffer agitated thoughts and trouble concentrating. Physically, victims may experience ulcers, fatigue, and headaches. This new research – published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders – examined nearly 6,000 American adults, including over 3,500 African Americans.

Jose Soto, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Penn State, reports: “one interesting finding from the study is that non-racial discrimination seems to be associated with the development of GAD [generalized anxiety disorder] for all three groups in the sample… about 49% of non-Hispanic whites said they suffered other forms of discrimination… this is just one instance of how powerful social stressors can impact healthy functioning.”

Last Thursday, nine former Auburn University Athletic Department employees filed a racial discrimination suit against the college in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Alabama.

The lawsuit stems from a spree of firings in 2010. When AU moved its basketball arena from the old Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum to a new arena, the Athletic Department let go of 11 workers, 10 of whom happened to be African American.

Kurtis Chandler was one of the employees who was let go. In a statement at a press conference following the filing of the suit, Chandler said: “it is just mindboggling that in 2011 it [racial discrimination] is still going on.” The employees want their jobs back at AU’s Athletics Department as well as compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay.

Last week, an Employment Standards Branch Division in Canada awarded $229,000 to 57 tree planters for wage and hour violations – including vacation pay and overtime owed.

The workers for Khaira Enterprises allegedly spent several months last year laboring under grueling conditions. They were grossly underpaid, forced to toil without being adequately fed, compelled to share dirty toilets and work up to 15 hours a day. In addition, employment discrimination and harassment may have occurred. According to a report in the Vancouver Sun: “one man said an employer threw a knife at him… they also complained of racial slurs.”

Here are some ghastly highlights from the Vancouver Sun story (January 4, 2011) about the wage and hour violations at Khaira Enterprises:

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has filed a religious discrimination suit on behalf of Christopher Woodson, a Rastafarian who allegedly did not get hired as a mover because of his long dreadlocked Rastafarian hair.

According to an AP article, Woodson applied to work for Lawrence Transportation Systems in May 2008. But the company denied him a chance to be a loader because of their “grooming policies.” According to a statement provided by the company’s lawyer, “[Woodson’s] hair was down to the middle of his back, and he was asked to get it cut to about shirt collar length.” The attorney said that, since loaders work closely with customers, the official policy stipulates “that hair, facial hair, beards and general grooming must be neat, clean and trimmed.” Hiring someone who looks like Woodson, in other words, would cause the company “undue hardship” and a loss of business.

The EEOC has counter-argued that Rastafarians “view growing their hair unbridled as a tenet of their religion.” Therefore, the company’s decision not to hire Woodson violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC wants Lawrence Transportation to pay for Woodson’s back pay as well as pay punitive damages and recalibrate its hiring policies.

A three-year battle over New York racial discrimination has finally come to a close, as a US District Court Judge awarded current and former African-American employees of Elmer W. Davis Inc., (a Rochester, NY based roofing company) $1 million pursuant to charges that African-American employees had been singled out for mistreatment over many years.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the lawsuit back in 2007 after Samuel Crenshaw, a former roofer, came forward with allegations that Elmer Davis employees had made threats against him and called him racial slurs. Other African-American employees also complained about mistreatment. Dilanjan Jackson, another ex-employee, was quoted saying: “I was called a Hebrew, the N-word, and a drug dealer.” When Jackson reported these problems to supervisor, the manager “laughed at my face and I was laid off.” Another employee, Phil Byford, alleged that his supervisor had sprayed him with tar.

Elmer W. Davis Inc. is the biggest New York roofing contractor with revenues approaching $30 million annually. In response to the verdict, the company maintained that the allegations of racial discrimination were untrue. CEO Jeff Davis said that the firm capitulated to the EEOC settlement because “we simply do not have the unlimited resources and deep pockets that the federal government has to continue litigating.”

The Washington Examiner reports that a jury has weighed in favor of the claimants in a profound racial discrimination and retaliation case involving five black police officers in Washington D.C. The $900,000 verdict aims to compensate the officers, who worked for the First District’s Focus Mission Unit – a top level vice squad. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Wilkins, allegedly engaged in racial discrimination back in 2006. On June 16, 2006 the five officers got together and wrote a letter complaining about what was going on in their department. Several months later, the officers got targeted – transferred to lower positions and taken out of their unit.

More disturbingly, their commanders allegedly did not tell the 5 officers about armed robbery suspects around them and also withheld info about critical observation posts. In addition to demoting/transferring the elite officers out of their unit, the upper echelon of the force moved Wilkins into “a more prestigious position,” according to the Examiner.

The jury believed the claimants’ argument that retaliation occurred in response to the anonymous letter (and follow-up official complaint) of racial discrimination. That said, a spokeswoman for the D.C. police told the Examiner that the department will likely appeal the decision.

On May 25th, the New York Times reported that former Arabic language school principal Debbie Almontaser will not file a New York national origin discrimination case against the Department of Education (D.O.E.), despite a Federal Commission’s ruling early this year that the D.O.E. had discriminated against her in 2007 by forcing her to resign from her position.

As this blog reported several months ago, Ms. Almontaser had come under fire from the D.O.E. after allegations emerged that she provided support to a group of Arabic women who sold shirts featuring the slogan “Intifada NYC.” Ms. Almontaser defended herself in an interview with the New York Post, but the Post allegedly misrepresented what she said in that interview, and the distorted article catalyzed the D.O.E. to take action against her. The Federal Commission found that Ms. Almontaser (who is of Yemeni descent) fell victim to “the very bias that the creation of her school was intended to dispel.”

Although many New York national origin discrimination analysts have argued that the ex-principal would have substantial grounds to sue the D.O.E., the former principal decided after consulting with her attorney to forego a suit because, per the New York Times, “there would be too much emotional pain to pursue it.” Ms. Almontaser released a public statement: “…additional litigation of the discrimination claim would mean reliving the unfortunate and painful events…it was time for me to move on in my professional and personal life.”

New York City has robust anti-employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation laws on the books. But NYC was not always so friendly to claimants. This article briefly reviews the history and evolution of the Big Apple’s journey to ensuring fair treatment for city workers.

1944

Mayor LaGuardia forms the Mayor’s Committee on Unity via an executive order, in part to address citizen concerns following 1943 race riots. LaGuardia’s committee lacks enforcement powers. Despite this, he manages to make some progress, settling disputes in Harlem and Coney Island, and being instrumental in passing a Fair Educational Practices Act.

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