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A Message from the Chair


Jenny R. Yang


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Post from Chair Jenny R. Yang - May 27, 2016

Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

During Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, our country celebrates the contributions of AAPIs to our nation's history and culture. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were immigrants from China who came to this country in search of a better life.

Over the past two centuries, generations of (AAPIs) have contributed to America's achievements in art, music, science, government, military and many other aspects of life.  AAPIs are civil rights leaders, educators and inventors; they served in the armed forces in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq; and continue to serve our nation in many ways.

Earlier this month, in his Presidential Proclamation marking AAPI Heritage Month, President Obama said,

The AAPI community's long and deeply-rooted legacy in the United States reminds us of both proud and painful chapters of our history. Confronted with grueling and perilous working conditions, thousands of Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad pushed the wheels of progress forward in the West. Japanese American troops fought for freedom from tyranny abroad in World War II while their families here at home were interned simply on the basis of their origin. And many South Asian-Americans in particular face discrimination, harassment, and senseless violence often in the communities in which they live and work. 

The President's words are a reminder of how far we have come in advancing civil rights for AAPIs, as well as how far we still have to go to ensure equal opportunity for all.  

AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the country. Nearly 20 million people in the United States are of Asian descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, AAPI workers represent a growing share of the United States labor market. In 2010, the United States labor force included 7.2 million people of Asian descent and 400,000 thousand people of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Island descent, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor. Together these two groups comprised 5.0 percent of the labor force in 2010.

As part of the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders' (WHIAAPI) Vulnerable Workers Project Interagency Working Group (IAWG), EEOC has been engaging in listening sessions with AAPI communities around the country. The IAWG consists of representatives from the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board.  The Vulnerable Workers Project goals are for federal agencies to: (i) gather information about the specific employment and labor issues that the AAPI workforce encounter in high-risk and low-wage industries; (ii) educate AAPI communities about their federal civil rights and labor protections; and (iii) operationalize the information obtained in the listening sessions into strategic enforcement and policy priorities of the federal agencies.  The IAWG produced a report, which documents the feedback provided by AAPI communities around the country.   During these meetings, EEOC specifically heard from several AAPI communities about a need for educational materials in additional languages.  Accordingly, EEOC has updated and translated key EEOC outreach documents in 17 Asian languages including Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Marshallese, Burmese, Laotian, Cambodian, Karen, Nepalese, Korean, Tagalog and Hindi.   

In addition to being a community with tremendous growth, the AAPI community is very diverse as far as national origin, language and religious affiliation.  Although some AAPI subgroups have high levels of education and income, others are struggling; for example, one out of three AAPIs does not speak English fluently and more than two million AAPIs live in poverty. Because of the often inaccurate perception that AAPIs are uniformly well-educated and upwardly mobile, the issues impacting low-income AAPI individuals and communities are often underestimated.   

The AAPI community has made an indelible contribution to our nation's progress in many sectors and the high-tech sector is one such example. As a major source of economic growth fueling the U.S. economy, the high-tech sector is the source of many good jobs. Yet, significant challenges remain in advancing diversity and inclusion in the industry. Last week, EEOC held a Commission meeting entitled, "Innovation Opportunity: Examining Strategies to Promote Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces in the Tech Industry." At the meeting, we released a report, "Diversity in the Tech Industry," looking at employment trends nationally and in Silicon Valley. The report sheds light on employment patterns in the high-tech industry overall, including diversity data on women and minority representation. The report found that compared to overall private industry, the high-tech sector employed a larger share of whites, Asian-Americans and men, and a smaller share of African-Americans, Hispanics, and women. In the tech sector nationwide, whites are represented at a higher rate in the Executives category, which typically encompasses the highest-level jobs in the organization. This is roughly over 15 percentage points higher than their representation in the Professionals category, which includes jobs such as computer programming.

However, other groups are represented at significantly lower rates in the Executives category than in the Professionals category; African-Americans (2 percent to 5.3 percent) and Hispanics (3.1 percent to 5.3 percent). Even for Asian-Americans, who are well-represented in the tech workforce overall (making up 19.5 percent of the tech workforce), they are markedly underrepresented in high-level leadership, holding only 10.6 percent of those positions. The report concludes that expanding diversity and inclusion for all is critical to unlocking the full potential of tomorrow's economy. Diversity in the AAPI community also extends to sectors of the workforce.  For example, AAPIs are employed in higher-paying occupa­tions in health care and finance and in lower-paying occupations, such as cashiers, cleaners, cooks, wait staff, truck drivers, and janitors.

As part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan, EEOC has been working to protect immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers from discrimination, including labor trafficking and discriminatory policies.

We recently resolved several significant cases on behalf of AAPIs:

  • Earlier this week, EEOC settled a lawsuit alleging race and national origin discrimination and retaliation against American Casing and Equipment, Inc., a North Dakota oilfield service company. In the lawsuit, we alleged that the charging party, a Filipino-American, was harassed by a white manager because of his race and national origin. The harassment included the manager calling the charging party a variety of racial slurs including "monkey" and "ape."  We further alleged that on one occasion, the manager urinated on charging party's legs as he worked under a truck in the shop. We alleged that defendant failed to take any corrective action despite being put on notice and that instead, the charging party was fired in retaliation for complaining. As part of the settlement, defendant agreed to pay $250,000 as well as extensive injunctive relief, including revising performance evaluations for managers, which will include measures for performance and compliance with EEO laws.
  • Earlier this month, a court awarded EEOC $7,658,500 against farm labor contractor Global Horizons for a pattern or practice of subjecting Thai farmworkers in the state of Washington to a hostile work environment, harassment and discrimination in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. EEOC initially filed suit against Global Horizons and two Yakima, Washington, farms in April 2011, charging a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, constructive discharge and retaliation against the Thai farmworkers, in violation of Title VII.
  • In December 2015, EEOC settled its case against Signal International, which operated two labor camps where hundreds of guest workers were allegedly trafficked from India. After filing for bankruptcy, the company agreed to pay $5 million, which will compensate 476 Indian workers for claims of race and national origin discrimination.

To commemorate AAPI Heritage Month, EEOC invited Deepa Iyer, author of "We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future" to speak about issues impacting those communities since 9/11. Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, these groups continue to encounter employment discrimination and other forms of workplace harassment. In the initial months after 9/11, the agency saw a 250% increase in the number of religion-based discrimination charges involving Muslims. During the 10-year period of 2002-2012, EEOC received an increase in charges filed by Arabs, Muslims, Middle Easterners or South Asian (or those perceived to be) with the claim of "discharge" (termination) alleged in 59% and "harassment" in 43% of such charges. Stereotypes about Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim, remain pervasive. For that reason, EEOC released a Fact Sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace, and, in December, I released a statement to address workplace discrimination against individuals who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim or Middle Eastern, as well as two Question and Answer documents concerning the rights of employees and responsibilities of employers on workplace issues with Muslim or Middle Easterners or those perceived to be.  These documents encourage proactive communication in the workplace to prevent and correct discrimination.

Last month, along with Commissioner Charlotte Burrows, I met with religious leaders of all faiths in Birmingham, Ala.  Joined by colleagues from the Department of Justice and Department of Labor, we hosted a community engagement initiative entitled, "Combating Religious Discrimination Today."  The goal of the session was to hear about concerns of the community, particularly around religious discrimination in employment, and also to hear ideas about what the federal government should be doing in response.

Equality is at the heart of our work at EEOC. Last year, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. For the past half century, we have helped define and defend equal opportunity in America's workplaces. On this AAPI Heritage Month, let's continue to preserve the progress that our country has made and continue moving forward and advancing opportunity for all.