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Insidious Discrimination

When it comes to discrimination, people often talk in code. Rarely do we hear the classic hateful epithets for races, gender, or sexual orientation, at least not from employers when they are making decisions about employees. A few recent articles point out the subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, code words and phrases that have now taken the place of overt discrimination.

A Cleveland, Ohio, TV station reports that a local temp agency was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because when they sent the applicants’ resumes to employers, they attached a notecard with a code phrase on it. “Chocolate cupcake” was a young African-American woman. “Hockey player” was a young white man. “Small hands” was for women in general. “Ballerina” and “basketball player” were two other codes, which the article does not translate, but we might guess what they mean.

A Boston Globe article reports that the Acton-Boxboro School District is being sued after it fired a lesbian softball coach. She says that some parents complained that she set a bad example because she was a single mother, though she and her female partner were raising five children together, and in fact three of their children attended the school where she worked. Other parents complained because she brought her partner with her on a team trip. The biggest complaint seemed to be that she swore too much, and that the students were uncomfortable with her vulgar language. She says that if she were a heterosexual man, these actions would not result in complaints or dismissal.

Finally, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Google, Inc. is being sued by a 54 year old manager who was fired after co-workers called him “fuddy-duddy” and an “old man.” Management was more subtle when they let him go — they said he was a bad “cultural fit” in the youth oriented company.

Discrimination in employment is far more subtle today than years ago. Code words, stereotypes, and an acceptance of the way the “majority” — usually meaning white men — view the world can lead to treating people of other races, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people badly. But if that happens in the employment context, it is still illegal.

The Boston employment discrimination lawyers at KJC Law Firm, including Kathy Jo Cook and Timothy Wilton, have more than 90 years of experience litigating serious cases. KJC Law Firm handles cases for clients all across the state of Massachusetts.

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