Assigning black employees to black clients: Is that racial bias?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a problem you might not see coming. Let’s say you have an employee who belongs to a protected class, and whose skills you believe will help when relating to others of the same protected class—language or cultural awareness skills, for example.

Before you decide to assign work to the employee based on those skills, consider whether doing so is, in effect, unspoken segregation.

That’s a particular risk if other employees might view the job assignment as less desirable, as the following case shows.

Recent case: Pamela Altman, who is black, worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as a child protection specialist and investigator.

She claimed that other investigators didn’t like to work in what she referred to as “the projects” and therefore she got those assignments. Plus, she alleged other employees were afraid to work with black males, so she got those assignments, too.

Altman sued, claiming that making her take all the cases involving poor black children amounted to race discrimination. The court said she had a point—and that a jury should hear the case. (Altman v. Department of Children and Family Services, et al., No. 06-CV-771, SD IL, 2009)

Final note: Don’t make assignment assumptions based on race—for example: black customers prefer black clerks. Double-check to make sure you’re distributing the work fairly and without regard to the race of the employee or the population being served.

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