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A Message from the Chair


Jenny R. Yang


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Post from Chair Jenny R. Yang - February 2016

African American History Month

As we wrap up African American History Month, we are reminded that as far as our nation has come, we still have important work to do to live up to the ideals of equality, fairness, and justice.  As President Obama eloquently stated in his 2016 Presidential Proclamation marking National African American History Month:

For too long, our most basic liberties had been denied to African Americans, and today, we pay tribute to countless good-hearted citizens -- along the Underground Railroad, aboard a bus in Alabama, and all across our country -- who stood up and sat in to help right the wrongs of our past and extend the promise of America to all our people. During National African American History Month, we recognize these champions of justice and the sacrifices they made to bring us to this point, we honor the contributions of African Americans since our country's beginning, and we recommit to reaching for a day when no person is judged by anything but the content of their character.

At the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), our mission is to stop and remedy discrimination in the workplace. Despite the progress we have made, we continue to see both overt and more subtle forms of bias against African Americans. Indeed, barriers to hire and advancement, job segregation, unequal pay, harassment and retaliation remain pervasive problems. 

Last year, our agency released a report entitled "American Experiences versus American Expectations."  It analyzed data collected in EEOC's first equal-employment opportunity survey of the country's largest employers.  In 1966, African Americans composed less than 1 percent of senior-level employees at those companies. By contrast, in 2013 the data showed that African American senior-level employees are now at almost 7 percent. Although that is an improvement from 1966, clearly we have not come far enough.

Perhaps even more significantly, the report showed that African Americans remain concentrated in service and labor positions. For example, in 2013, African Americans composed 23 percent of Service Workers and nearly 19 percent of Laborers, yet, African Americans were only 7.6 percent of Professionals and under 7 percent of Officials and Managers. This data shows that we still have much work to do to ensure that African American communities have opportunities to advance into higher paying fields.

This reality is reflected in the types of charges brought to EEOC.  Of the more than 89,000 charges EEOC received in fiscal year 2015, charges alleging race discrimination comprise 35% of all charges. Indeed, last year, race was the second most frequently filed basis alleged in charges of discrimination received by EEOC, after retaliation. Of the 31,027 charges alleging race discrimination, African Americans filed 64% (23,689).   

Equal opportunity starts with getting a job and EEOC has focused much of its efforts nationally on discrimination in recruitment and hiring. Through our Strategic Enforcement Plan, we have defined our areas of national focus and a key priority is eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring.  One significant barrier to hire is the use of employment screens that exclude people for reasons not related to job qualifications -such as criminal background screens that screen out qualified individuals and have a disproportionate negative impact on communities of color.  One of EEOC's key functions is to provide guidance to the public on how to interpret the law, as well as to conduct outreach and education to promote compliance. The 2012 EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions is an important example of guidance that we issued that is helping employers take effective steps to build productive and inclusive workplaces that fully utilize the talents of all those in the workforce. It seeks to ensure that individuals have a chance to be considered for employment where they are qualified to do the job. 

Over the past several years, the guidance helped turn the tide to greater public understanding of the need to remove these persistent barriers to employment for qualified workers. President Obama has identified criminal justice reform and fair chance hiring as a top priority, and we have seen over 100 cities and counties adopt Ban the Box laws. This is tangible evidence of progress. 

Last year, EEOC resolved a case with BMW Manufacturing Company. Our suit alleged that the company's criminal conviction policy disproportionately screened out African American workers. In the resolution with BMW, we secured $1.6 million for 56 victims along with job offers for up to 90 individuals. 

In other cases over the past year, EEOC has succeeded in enforcement actions and lawsuits challenging discrimination in hiring, recovering significant damages for African Americans and lasting changes to workplace practices: 

  • Target voluntary settled a case with EEOC in a public conciliation for $2.8 million and agreed to stop using pre-screening assessment tests that discriminated based on race, sex, and disability.  An EEOC investigation determined that thousands (which included African American and Asian American applicants) were adversely affected when Target used these assessments in its hiring process.  
  • EEOC also reached settlements with Prestige Transp. Service L.L.C., and staffing firm New Koosharem Corp, where we alleged that both companies refused to hire African American applicants.
  • In  ACM Servs., Inc., through a settlement, EEOC succeeded in stopping the use of word-of-mouth recruitment practices that we allege excluded recruitment of African American and female applicants.

Preventing harassment through strategic enforcement is also a national priority as set forth in EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan. Workplace harassment is alleged in approximately 30 percent of all charges filed.  Race discrimination remains the most frequent basis alleged in all harassment charges. Although most employers now have policies in place designed to prevent against harassment, serious problems unfortunately persist. 

  • One example is Patterson-UTI Drilling, a nationwide race and national origin discrimination case affecting more than 1000 employees filed against an oil drilling company on behalf of a class of African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian American workers.  According to the EEOC's lawsuit, the company tolerated a hostile work environment on its rigs, with employees of color enduring frequent and pervasive barrages of racial and ethnic slurs, jokes, and comments, as well as verbal and physical harassment and intimidation. EEOC settled this case for relief, including a $14.5 million dollar settlement fund for a class of victims and strong injunctive relief that will foster a work environment that is free from discrimination. 
  • In Hillshire Brands , EEOC resolved allegations of a racially hostile work environment, which provided $4 million to 74 African American workers.

Over the past half century, EEOC has helped define and defend equal opportunity in the American workplace.  Moving forward, we will continue our steadfast commitment to combating employment discrimination impacting African American workers. We will continue to tackle persistent barriers to equal employment opportunity and ensure that we are addressing the needs of a changing workplace.