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Record $2.5M Race-Discrimination Settlement Highlights New EEOC Crackdown

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

On-the-job racism in America is still a big problem more than 40 years after the Civil Rights Act made employment discrimination illegal. Racial harassment charges filed with the EEOC have more than doubled since the early 1990s, reaching about 7,000 claims last year. And race remains the top basis for charges of on-the-job discrimination, accounting for 36% of the EEOC’s caseload.

That's why the EEOC has launched a new education and enforcement initiative called E-RACE (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment.). The agency calls the initiative a "fresh, 21st century approach to combating racism."

Increased enforcement will be a key part of the effort. Latest news: Lockheed Martin agreed in December to pay $2.5 million to settle a race discrimination suit brought by a black employee who was subjected to racist graffiti and verbal harassment, including use of the “N” word and threats of lynching.

The settlement is the largest award ever obtained by the EEOC for a single person in a race bias case. It “sends a powerful message that racism cannot and must not be tolerated,” said an EEOC spokesman.

Public campaign

The EEOC teamed with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to create two 30-second public service announcements that will air on TV and radio as part of the E-RACE initiative. In the spots, Marsalis urges employers and employees to celebrate diversity and work together. The videos are also available online at www.eeoc.gov/psa/marsalis.html.

The EEOC says its aim is to educate employers about “contemporary forms of overt, subtle and implicit bias.” The agency set up a special section on its web site highlighting cases that fit into those categories. Employers that want to know how the agency is thinking about race and color these days may want to take a look at the cases. They can be found at www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/caselist.html.

EEOC interest areas:

If the cases on its site are any indication, the EEOC will be concentrating its enforcement efforts in several areas, including:

Color discrimination. This type of discrimination looks at more than just race. It includes discrimination within a race based on the color of employees. For example, favoring lighter-skinned blacks over those with darker pigmentation is still discrimination based on race.

Customer preference. This type of discrimination involves using the racist preferences of customers as a basis for discriminating against applicants or employees.

Hispanic preference. Several cases highlight employer preference for Hispanic applicants over white or black ones.

Hostile work environment. Last year, the EEOC received 6,977 racially hostile work environment complaints, the most the agency has ever received in one year. Some of those were truly shocking, including numerous incidents of nooses appearing in locker and break rooms, name-calling and other blatantly racist behavior.

Combination discrimination. This is discrimination based on a combination of protected classifications, such as discrimination against disabled women or older blacks.

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