• U.S.

Deciphering A Racist Business Code

2 minute read

In the bad old days, a company looking to fill a job selectively would call an employment agency and simply say, “Don’t send me any blacks.” That kind of discrimination is illegal now, but some companies still find ways of using code words to avoid job applicants on the basis of race, sex and age. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission caught Interplace, a Los Angeles employment agency, in the act. In the largest such suit to be settled, Interplace has agreed to pay $2 million for using a complex set of signals to screen out workers for its clients. Some 3,900 victims of the scheme will share the compensation.

The agency used simple phrases to make sure its clients could discriminate at will. If a firm wanted only Japanese workers, for example, it would instruct Interplace to have applicants “talk to Mariko.” Other codes blocked blacks, Hispanics, men or women for certain work. The practice is disturbingly widespread. The EEOC is now pursuing actions against employment agencies in other states that use similar codes. Some go so far as to specify “no accents,” meaning no minorities of any kind. Companies receiving this special service include Wall Street firms, insurance companies, manufacturers and at least one magazine publisher.

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