Effects of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks on the EEOC
On Sept. 11, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania - and the EEOC was faced with its own unique traumas and challenges resulting from these attacks on America. The Commission's New York District Office (NYDO) at Seven World Trade Center was severely damaged in the attack, and all EEOC personnel were evacuated. It collapsed later in the day with no loss of life or injuries, but the office and all of its equipment, files, and records were destroyed.
Members of the New York District Office staff at a temporary office at 210 Varick Street.
Immediately after the attack, an internal task force of EEOC offices was established with two priorities: Firstly, the agency provided employee assistance to New York staff who experienced trauma from the attack. Formal and informal support groups were created to assist employees. Secondly, within one week, the agency started working to reestablish the NYDO. Three weeks after the attack, on Oct. 3, managers in the NYDO established a temporary office in the Newark Area office. Newark employees began working early eight-hour shifts ending in the early afternoon, and then the New York employees came to the office to work the later shift. Long term, New York managers developed a sophisticated work plan utilizing telework, staff rotation schedules, office sharing, flexiplace schedules, and continued staff presence in Newark in order for staff to provide service for New York City workers and employers.
EEOC staff used the agency's Integrated Management System (IMS) to create new lists of charging parties, respondents, federal complainants, federal defendants, and outreach partners. From these lists, staff conducted expansive outreach to agency stakeholders, requesting them to provide the office with existing records. The New York District office eventually reconstructed 950 charge investigation files, 960 federal hearing complaint files, and 45 pending litigation files. Most, but not all, of the New York staff move into the new permanent office space 14 months after the attack. The new office is just a few blocks from the old office location.
In Washington, immediately following the attack, the EEOC, in conjunction with the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Labor (DOL), issued a statement reaffirming the federal government's commitment to preventing and redressing incidents of harassment, discrimination and violence in the workplace, including any acts directed toward individuals who are, or are perceived to be, Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian or Sikh. The EEOC also issued a fact sheet on discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or country of origin, and created a special section on its website devoted to post-Sept. 11 employment issues.
The EEOC created a new database code, "Process Type Z," in order to track charges alleging employment discrimination related to the events of Sept. 11. Between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 10, 2002, 654 charges are filed under Title VII alleging national origin, race and religious discrimination related to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11.
The EEOC expanded its outreach efforts to the Arab, Muslim, Sikh and Southeast Asian communities as a result of the 9/11 attack and incidents afterwards. The agency began partnerships with various Arab and Islamic organizations, including civil rights groups, neighborhood groups, mosques, and Sikh temples. Many programs were held with other federal agencies, including the DOJ, the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Education, and the National Association of Attorneys General to inform Muslim, Arab, Sikh and Southeast Asian underserved groups of their right to be free from discrimination in the workplace.
The EEOC filed three lawsuits based on "backlash discrimination" related to the events of Sept.11, 2001. One suit alleged that a manufactures of castings for the aerospace industry unlawfully singled out and discharged a naturalized American citizen of Palestinian descent. Another lawsuit alleged that a museum fired a security guard with seven years of satisfactory service based on his Afghan national origin and Muslim religion. The third suit alleged that an employer refused to allow a Muslim customer service representative to cover her head with a scarf during Ramadan, although in the past she had been permitted to do so.
In response to these urgent post-9/11 challenges, the EEOC issued several landmark documents. The Chair of the EEOC, with the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at DOJ and the Department of Labor's (DOL) Director of Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), issued the Joint Statement against Employment Discrimination in the Aftermath of the September 11 Terrorist Attack.
The EEOC also issued:
- Q&A About Employer Responsibilities Concerning the Employment of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs, and a companion document, Q&A About the Workplace Rights of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Laws.
- Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures, to address the concerns of employers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Federal disability discrimination laws do not prevent employers from obtaining and appropriately using information necessary for a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan.