EEOC: HR Manager used code words and other directives to staffing agencies to discriminate.


A few weeks ago, I blogged here about how a federal appellate court concluded that firing someone who isn’t a ‘good fit’ isn’t necessarily a coded phrase for discrimination. Still, I generally recommend to clients that they be more direct when terminating someone’s employment by explaining the legitimate business reason(s) for the decision.

Similar issues may arise when companies make hiring decisions. Code words used to describe protected classes that reflect a company’s hiring preferences generally aren’t hard to crack. And then they become costly.

I’m going to tell you about an employer that allegedly went beyond code words and is not staring down the barrel of an EEOC lawsuit.

Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced here that it had sued a metallurgical manufacturer and supplier for violating federal law when it allegedly discriminated against a class of female employees by segregating its manufacturing workforce by sex and paying them less than male production workers.

What proof does the EEOC have that the company favored men over women? Check this out:

In communications with staffing agencies, [the company] routinely expressed a preference for male workers — using direct or coded language — to fill its higher-paying manufacturing positions, the EEOC said. For example, a [company] Human Resources manager wrote that “a man would be better” for one vacancy, that it would prefer to “try a man” for another, and that an applicant “needs to be strong.” In contrast, job vacancies in female-dominated positions were described as requiring employees with “good finger dexterity,” even though employees of either sex could perform the jobs. The few women who were allowed to work alongside men were paid less, regardless of their tenure, the EEOC said.

The EEOC further alleged that the company regularly assigned female manufacturing employees to lower-paying jobs. At the same time, the men required no prior experience and performed similar work in higher-paying jobs.

These are just EEOC allegations, not necessarily facts. But “try a man” and “a man would be better” are what we call “direct evidence” of discrimination.

Or, in plain English, get out the checkbook.

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