In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that special measures were needed to combat a backlash of employment discrimination against those perceived – based on their ethnicity, religion or national origin – to resemble the attackers. Ten years later, the issues that caused the backlash continue, and EEOC remains vigilant.
The Sept. 11 attacks also hit the EEOC directly. In addition to bringing down the Twin Towers, the assault destroyed a nearby office building that housed the EEOC’s New York District Office – though all EEOC employees were safely evacuated.
In the days immediately following September 11, when feelings were still raw, then-EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez issued a public statement that highlighted the need for tolerance in the workplace. Chair Dominguez said that we must "not allow our anger about . . . [these] heinous events . . . to be misdirected against innocent individuals because of their religion, ethnicity, or country of origin." The Chair urged employers to call attention to their policies against discrimination and harassment, and to be especially vigilant about the possibility of backlash against Middle Eastern or Muslim employees.
In addition, the EEOC intensified its outreach, created fact sheets on immigrant employee rights (http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/immigrants-facts.cfm) and discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or country of origin (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/fs-relig_ethnic.cfm ), translated the fact sheets into Farsi, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Arabic and distributed the material on wallet cards and in other user-friendly formats.
EEOC staff also conducted vigorous outreach and education, to employers and workers alike, about discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and country of origin. Staff met with employers, civil rights organizations and members of religious groups, and attended community forums, to discuss how to prevent religious and national origin discrimination as a result of September11. For example:
To focus further attention on the issues surrounding backlash discrimination and to educate employers and the public, the Commission held a public meeting (http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/archive/12-11-01.html) in December 2001, featuring representatives of community and business groups discussing problems facing employees as well as employer best practices to prevent and address post-9/11 backlash in the workplace.
In the initial months after the terrorist attack, the EEOC saw a 250% increase in the number of religion-based discrimination charges involving Muslims. Over the past ten years:
Since September 11, the Commission has filed more than 80 lawsuits alleging backlash discrimination, many of which concerned harassment involving national origin and ethnicity. The alleged harassment included taunts such as “Saddam Hussein,” “camel eater,” and “terrorist.” During the same period, the Commission filed more than 3,200 lawsuits alleging discrimination based on all statutes enforced.
The EEOC’s fight against backlash discrimination in the days immediately after the September 11 attacks grew from urgent and extreme circumstances. Perhaps of even greater concern, in addition to those charges with a direct link to the September 11 backlash, the Commission continues to see more charges involving religious discrimination against Muslims and alleging national origin discrimination against Muslims or those with a Middle Eastern background. As a result, in addition to outreach efforts to ensure that the Nation’s laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of religion and national origin are vigorously enforced, the EEOC has continued to work with the communities most impacted by backlash discrimination to ensure that both employees and employers are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law.