The U.S. Department of Labor Takes on Discrimination by High Tech Employers

The U.S. Department of Labor is challenging long-standing and overt discriminatory employment practices in the high-tech industry by threatening to cancel the alleged violators’ federal contracts.

In recent months, the DOL has sued Oracle America, Inc., Google Inc. and the startup, Palantir, for alleged discriminatory conduct. This follows years in which the DOL and the EEOC appeared to have adopted a “hands off” policy with respect to high-tech employers.

The DOL filed a lawsuit on Jan. 17 charging Oracle with allegedly paying white males more than other workers at its Redwood Shores, CA,  headquarters. The DOL reported finding “gross disparities in pay even after controlling for job title, full-time status, exempt status, global career level, job specialty, estimated prior work experience and company tenure.”

The DOL also charged Oracle, which has 45,000 employees across the country, with heavily favoring Asian Indians in hiring and recruitment. The lawsuit alleges that 82 percent of new hires in a professional technical group at Oracle’s headquarters were Asian during a six-month period in 2013,  even though only 75 percent of job applicants were Asian. The DOL noted that Oracle targeted Asian Indians in recruitment efforts that including referral bonuses.

Oracle allegedly discriminated against White, Hispanic, and African-American applicants.

The lawsuit alleges Oracle discriminated against “qualified White, Hispanic, and African-American applicants in favor of Asian applicants, particularly Asian Indians” in 69 job titles at its headquarters. The suit alleges that Oracle discriminated against qualified female employees in technology, support and product development units. [Read more…]

Feds Bear Responsibility for Age Discrimination in Hiring

Note:  A major research study was released Monday finding “robust evidence of age discrimination in hirng against older women.” – Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment by David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button

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Age discrimination in hiring is epidemic in the United States and much of the reason for this is directly attributed to our own federal government.

It’s almost impossible for individuals to fight age discrimination in hiring because they lack access to critical information, such as the identity of the other candidates and why the successful candidates were chosen.  A highly qualified older job applicant  may suspect age discrimination but can’t prove it. The evidence is in the hands of the employer, who has no obligation to release it unless it is demanded pursuant to court-ordered discovery in a lawsuit.  A lawsuit alleging age discrimination in hiring is almost certain to be dismissed prior to discovery if it is based solely upon speculation. It’s a vicious circle –> no information, no basis for a lawsuit -> no lawsuit, no ability to obtain information.

This is why it is incumbent upon the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  and the U.S. Department of Labor to protect workers from arbitrary discrimination in hiring. But the EEOC and DOL have virtually ignored the problem since it became an epidemic during the Great Recession of 2008.

The EEOC filed 12 lawsuits with age discrimination claims in 2014, compared to 76 lawsuits with Title VII claims  (primarily race and sex discrimination)  and 49 lawsuits with disability claims. The EEOC filed only 7 lawsuits with age claims in 2013.

Here are somes things that our government can do now to deter age discrimination in hiring:

  1. The EEOC could require employers to provide age-related data, along with data on the race and gender of their employees,  in their mandatory EEO-1 Reports, which are due at the end of this month. The EEOC could use this information to identify and prosecute corporate “bad actors” who refuse to hire older workers (i.e. Silicon Valley tech companies). If the EEOC does not accept that it has the regulatory authority to require employerss to provide age  data, it could ask Congress for the authority.
  2. The federal government could stop engaging in age discrimination in hiring. Not only does this hurt older workers but it sends a terrible message to private sector employers that age discrimination in hiring is warranted, reasonable, okay and will be tolerated.
    1. U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez could withdraw his support for the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative”  by America’s top corporations to hire workers between the ages of 16 and 24. This initiative blatantly violates the terms of the ADEA, which prohibits any consideration of age in hiring (except for a few categories of workers to which this does not apply).
    2. President Barack Obama could rescind his 2010 executive order that permits federal agencies to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of age. After all, if the feds can do it, why can’t Silicon Valley?
    3. The EEOC could acknowledge that complaints about age discrimination comprise almost a quarter of all of the complaints the EEOC receives annually but only a tiny fraction of the agency’s investigatory and prosecutorial resources are devoted to the problem. Age discrimination is no less harmful than other illegal and arbitrary discrimination so why does it get such short shrift from the EEOC?

On Monday, there were  1000+ jobs on Monster.com posted by employers and employment agencies seeking to hire  “recent graduates” and 1000+ jobs  advertising for a “digital native.”  Technically, it is unlawful under the ADEA to print or publish a “notice or advertisement” indicating preferences or limitations relating to age. The overwhelming majority of recent graduates and digital natives are under the age of 40.  But no one has been held to account in recent years for this widespread practice.

A law that is not enforced is an illusion.

Urban Outfitters “Asks” Salaried Workers to Volunteer

Can an employer ask a worker to “volunteer” to work on weekends?

This concept is being tested by the affluent retailer Urban Outfitters, Inc., which asked salaried employees at the company’s Philadelphia corporate headquarters to “volunteer” to work six-hour shifts on weekends throughout October at the  company’s new fulfillment center about 50 miles outside Philadelphia.  Urban Outfitters operates under the Anthropologie, Bhldn, Free People, Terrain and Urban Outfitters brands.  Somewhat ironically,  the company announced in August that its total  net sales had increased in the second quarter by 7% over the prior year to a record $867 million.

A memo leaked  to Gawker  states that “volunteers” will “work side by side with your [fulfillment center] colleagues to help pick, pack and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers.” The memo continues: “In addition to servicing the needs of our customers, it’s a great way to experience our fulfillment operations first hand. Get your co-workers together for a team building activity!”

Salaried workers are exempt from the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established the 40-hour work week and regulates the payment of wages and overtime.  They can be forced to work uncompensated overtime. But it’s a different thing to ask workers – even salaried workers –  to volunteer. The FLSA prohibits for-profit employers from permitting any individual to “suffer or permit to” work without compensation. The definition of “volunteer” is to work without compensation. So it stands to reason that for-profit employers cannot ask any employee to “volunteer” to work.

The situation demonstrates the problems facing workers who are exempt from the FLSA – especially poorly paid white-collar workers.

Urban Outfitters’ CEO; Richard Hayne’s net worth is approximately $1.35 billion (according to the Forbes billionaires list) but many white-collar workers are not so lucky. They are  barely paid enough to put food on the table.  The FLSA’s “white collar” exemption applies to employees whose job duties primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties and who earn a salary of at least $455 per week or $23,660 a year. This poverty-level paycheck is particularly brutal for single parents (mainly women) who must schedule and pay for child care. And, let’s face it, an employer’s request for volunteers is inherently coercive. Only a courageous worker can pass up an opportunity to experience the fulfillment center “first hand” in a “team building activity”?

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a proposed rule to amend the FLSA “white-collar” exemption to eventually eliminate the exempt status of an estimated 21.4 million“white -collar”employees. The DOL’s proposed regulations dramatically increase the minimum salary threshold for exempt status workers to $970 per week or $50,440 per year. This represents the 40th percentile of earnings for all full-time salaried workers throughout the United States.

But for now, it appears that salaried workers at Urban Outfitters who don’t want to risk their jobs by refusing to “volunteer”  will be spending their weekends packing overpriced clothing into cardboard boxes.

It should be noted the FLSA does permit individuals to volunteer in the non-profit sector for religious, charitable, civic or humanitarian  organizations and to perform volunteer services for a state or local government agencies. Indeed, the U.S.Department of Justice  has the gall to retain licensed attorney volunteers for up to a year at a time to work as unpaid prosecutors along-side Assistant U.S. Attorneys who earn a starting salary of more than $75,000. Instead of leading the nation, it seems the federal government, including the Office of Personnel Management,  is intent upon perpetuating  hiring practices that are sadly antiquated and even discriminatory .

Chipping Away at the Wage Gap Through Transparency

One reason women consistently get paid less for equal work is  that they don’t know how much their male counterparts are earning.

President Barack Obama’s Pay Transparency Executive Order promises to help chip away at the wage gap by eliminating barriers to transparency in worker pay.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that investigates pay discrimination in the federal government, recently released a  proposed final rule to implement Obama’s executive order. The Rule was published in the Federal Register on September 11, 2015 and will take effect 120 days from publication – January 11, 2016.

The order, issued on April 8, 2014, prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against employees and job applicants who inquire about, discuss, or disclose their own compensation or the compensation of other employees or applicants.

The pay transparency rule includes a hammer.

Contractors must submit  pay, race and gender data on their employees to the DOL each year. The DOL will use the compensation data to target contractors who appear to be engaging in pay discrimination against women and people of color.

The OFCCP contends the 118-page rule will contribute “to building an economy that works for everyone” and “make the contractor workforce more efficient.”

Employers are required to update their nondiscrimination policies to include language addressing pay transparency. This language must be incorporated into employee manuals or handbooks and disseminated to employees and job applicants.

Employers have two possible defenses to a pay discrimination charge: a general defense, which could be based on the enforcement of a “workplace rule” that does not prohibit the discussion of compensation information, and an “essential job functions” defense.

A third of all American women live in or near poverty – Center for American Progress

The pay gap has ramifications for all women but it  is especially critical for low-income and retired women.

A 2014 report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress found that a third of all American women are living at or on ‘‘the brink of poverty.’’ This  equals to 42 million women – plus the 28 million children who depend on them.

The gap has devestating consequences for women in later life. The Social Security Administration’s formula for awarding retirement benefits is based upon lifetime earnings so the wage gap contributes to poverty in old age for millions of  women who have worked hard all of their lives.

What is the Wage Gap?

Comparing census data on average annual wages in 2013 reveals that women make 78 cents for every dollar that men make.

The DOL states that a  typical woman who works every year between ages 25 and 65 loses $420,000 over her working lifetime because of the earnings gap (based on median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers at age 25 and above in 2013).

The gap is wider for some women of color.  Census data shows  African-American women arre making 64 cents, Latina women making 56 cents, and Asian women making 86 cents per dollar earned by a non-Hispanic white man.

The wage gap is just one of many factors, that contribute to the gender pay disparity, including sex discrimination in hiring,  assignments, promotions and terminations.