Home > Anti-Semitism > Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems more sensitive to religious bias

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems more sensitive to religious bias

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–No wonder Rand Paul is horrified by the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Six months ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission posted a 10-page fact sheet on its Web site that should force any repugnant employer to cringe.
The fact sheet addresses concerns crucial to victims of workplace discrimination that have long been ignored by past administrations. The document impressed me since it appears to cover forms of possible anti-Semitic actions which affected me in the past. Some provisions specify protection for the disabled, older workers and speakers of a non-English language. The fact sheet is entitled “Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination – Questions and Answers.”
Paul, the latest Tea Party poster boy, upset people when he suggested that private businesses should not be subjected to government regulation over their civil rights practices, though he was not very clear beyond that. Maybe Paul’s Democratic opponent in the Kentucky Senate race will compel him to be more clear. I happened upon the fact sheet, dated last Nov. 21, while checking on the status of civil rights matters.
It is not unusual when a law created to right a wrong produces new complications. However, I know from personal experience that the Civil Rights Act is not sufficiently funded by Congress nor enforced by the EEOC and the network of state and local agencies charged with policing workplace discrimination. It was documented in news reports that the EEOC is understaffed and overwhelmed with complaints, and the state and local organizations have the same problem.
These agencies likewise have strange ways of interpreting the CRA. The Clinton administration apparently thought so when it introduced guidelines stating that religious harassment violates the CRA. Yet Clinton’s EEOC swiftly backed off this plan after Pat Robertson and the rest of the religious right launched a holy war to prevent the guidelines from going into effect.
Before President Clinton took office, an employer at a New Jersey company invited me to dinner along with a colleague when they both made remarks indicating that I should consider converting to Christianity. An investigator for New Jersey’s anti-bias agency informed me that my experience did not constitute a violation of the law.
The Obama administration’s new fact sheet lists the following as “discriminatory practices”: “Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information or age.”
I can only speculate how this might have affected my complaint, but it gives me hope. This clause in combination with other new provisions might have strengthened a different complaint I filed in 2002 against a high-level manager, in a city agency no less, who posted a confusing poster on her bulletin board about Israel. Most Jewish employees along with union leaders interpreted the posting as blatant Israel-bashing.
The agency’s commissioner ordered the sign removed and the manager posted a similar sign two days later. The manager – let’s call her Vanessa, as in Redgrave – should have known that the first sign would infuriate her Jewish colleagues. If she was unaware, she had to know she was creating a “hostile environment” when she posted the second sign.
The EEOC determined that this was a “free speech” issue, and the investigator indicated that Vanessa might have been told by the commissioner in a memo not to repeat this action. She repeated this kind of action later and retaliated against me a few times. Retaliation was considered a discriminatory practice long before President Obama took office.
My take was that Vanessa deliberately produced a “hostile environment,” a term specifically employed in sexual harassment cases. Now “hostile environment” applies to all forms of discrimination covered by the CRA.
The revised provision reads: “Sexual harassment – This includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment. (The ‘hostile environment’ standard also applies to harassment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, age and disability.)”
The fact sheet addresses employees who are ordered to speak English at work at all times. The document states: “A rule requiring that employees speak only English on the job may violate Title VII unless an employer shows that the requirement is necessary for conducting business. If the employer believes such a rule is necessary, employees must be informed when English is required and the consequences for violating the rule.”
Paul can sigh with relief that the gay community is not covered in this fact sheet, but he and his allies know they cannot relax over that.
I do wonder why Paul would raise his concerns now. Perhaps he has always felt this way and brought it up as part of his introduction on the public stage. Or, business leaders have complained to him that Obama’s EEOC has intensified the pressure while investigating complaints.
If the EEOC has thrown offending employers off balance, that’s progress.
Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist. He can be reached at bticker@comcast.net.

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