Job Bias Claims At Record High

By Staff

March 17, 2009

Discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped 15 percent in 2008 to 95,402, the highest level since the agency opened in 1965.

David Grinberg, a spokesman for the EEOC, told MSNBC that job bias cases may increase to more than 100,000 in the current fiscal year that began October 1 due to "ongoing mass layoffs and scant hiring."

"It's possible we have yet to see the full impact of the recession on discrimination charge filings as the economy continues to spiral downward since fiscal year 2008," he said.

Bloomberg notes that the agency reported that more than 25 percent of the claims filed were related to age discrimination, while more than 34 percent of the filings included complaints of retaliation. The Associated Press reports that allegations of race discrimination were the most frequently filed complaint, accounting for over 35 percent of all filings--an 11 percent increase from 2007.

Michael Hannafan, a plaintiffs' attorney, remarked that the increased claims reflect the economic climate. "What has to be driving it is the economy with the loss of jobs and the unemployment statistics we've been seeing," he told Bloomberg. "People are desperate, more desperate, to keep their jobs."

Job hunters also suspect discrimination when they are not hired, and MSNBC notes that some suspicions may be warranted. Eden King, assistant professor of psychology at George Mason University, conducted a study in which she determined that individuals are less likely to hire women or minorities during difficult economic times.

"When times are tough, people tend to look out for their own group and isolate outsiders," King said, "and that's when discrimination can begin to rear its ugly head."

But others say that discrimination may be inadvertent. Scott Erker, senior vice president at Development Dimensions International, noted that the surge in discrimination claims may be caused by an ignorance of laws and a rush to make decisions.

"Certainly interviewers are under pressure right now," he told MSNBC. "When you post a job, you get more candidates than seen in the last 10 years. They also have to manage the business profitably and make the best decision for those few jobs they have. And they need to hire someone who can hit the ground running."

These pressures, said Erker, may propel an interviewer to avoid hiring prospective employees who are disabled or who have family obligations, without realizing the legal ramifications of such actions.

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