Employer Discrimination Claims on the Rise

September 16, 2008 03:14 PM
by Shannon Firth
A North Carolina butcher is one of an increasing number of employees nationwide to file discriminatory suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Was Butcher Axed for Not Being Hispanic?

Robert Bruce, a butcher in North Carolina, has filed a claim through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that he was fired because he is not Hispanic, and replaced with a less-competent Hispanic worker. Bruce alleges that his employer, the Compare Foods grocery store in Statesville, North Carolina, which has predominantly Hispanic customers, favors Hispanics in the employment process. A similar claim brought against another Compare Foods location, under different ownership, was settled with a payment to the plaintiff of $40,000.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that it is unlawful “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual … because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this law has been interpreted to mean that “Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied any person because of his/her racial group or perceived racial group, his/her race-linked characteristics (e.g., hair texture, color, facial features), or because of his/her marriage to or association with someone of a particular race or color.”

The Observer said there have been more than 30,500 race-related claims in the U.S. this fiscal year, the greatest number in the last 15 years. It added that experts say “the tightening economy is leading to more layoffs,” which may be responsible for the increase in EEOC complaints. USA Today reported that “racial and ethnic minorities” are slated to become the majority in the work force by the year 2047.

The typical Title VII case involves a plaintiff who is in a minority class or a female. However, the Compare Foods case is one of many that have been filed in recent years alleging discrimination against men or Caucasians, or by members of minority classes. For instance, another race-based lawsuit, unusual because both defendant and plaintiff were African American, was brought by Dwight Burch, who worked at an Applebee's restaurant in Atlanta. Burch alleged that he was fired after telling his manager he planned to report him to headquarters for insulting his dark skin color. Ultimately, he won a settlement of $40,000.

Background: Affirmative action

Under Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created affirmative-action policies to enhance the academic and work prospects for minorities and women.
Subsequently, critics such as Allan Bakke, at the time a prospective medical student, claimed they were now victims of “reverse discrimination.” In a groundbreaking case, Bakke sued the University of California, Davis for twice denying him acceptance, claiming his scores were higher than many of the accepted minority students. Further, he claimed the school’s reliance on racial quotas, reserving a number of spots for minority students, was unconstitutional. Bakke won the case and quotas were abolished; however the Supreme Court ruled that race could remain a determinant in school acceptance. Later rulings in Texas, California and other states challenged and defeated affirmative action, while two lawsuits brought against the University of Michigan reaffirmed its principles.

Two rulings involving the University of Michigan, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, challenged affirmative action and achieved mixed results, upholding the policy at the law school level and abolishing the point system used at the undergraduate level. Previously on admissions scales, prospective minority students were automatically granted 20 points. The critical vote in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 5-4 ruling, belonged to Sandra Day O’Connor, who said, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Opinion: Reverse discrimination

Stanley Fish, a Duke law school professor writing for The Atlantic, responds to the central flaw many critics find with affirmative action: “[S]omeone will always say, ‘But two wrongs don’t make a right; if it was wrong to treat blacks unfairly, it is wrong to give blacks preference and thereby treat whites unfairly.’ … But blacks have not simply been treated unfairly; they have been subjected first to decades of slavery, and then to decades of second-class citizenship, widespread legalized discrimination, economic persecution, educational deprivation, and cultural stigmatization. … The word 'unfair' is hardly an adequate description of their experience, and the belated gift of 'fairness' in the form of a resolution no longer to discriminate against them legally is hardly an adequate remedy.”

Related Topic: Hooters gets hit with discrimination lawsuit

A case of discrimination that was laughable to some concerned men who were rejected as applicants for jobs by the Hooters restaurant chain, known for its troupes of well-endowed waitresses in revealing attire. The settlement awarded a total of $3.75 million to seven men denied jobs at the chain. Hooters has since opened “support jobs,” such as bartender and host, to all applicants regardless of gender.

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