1. Home
  2. A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Black History Month 2022

A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Black History Month 2022

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Black History Month theme – Black Health and Wellness – is a timely one. At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we continue our efforts to address the pandemic’s civil rights impact on Black communities while building inclusive workplaces where all people have a fair chance to provide for their families and contribute to our economy.

Historically, Black Americans have made outstanding contributions to health and medicine in the United States, despite discriminatory barriers to their educational and employment opportunities, and even while experiencing severe disparities in their own medical treatment and health outcomes. Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950), a renowned surgeon who organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States, once noted, “Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man.” Dr. Drew and other Black pioneers in medicine triumphed over racism and discrimination to offer quality health services to members of their community and to achieve a lasting impact on the American health care system.

Yet the legacy of slavery, segregation, and ongoing racial discrimination often have had a devastating impact on Black communities and on Black Americans’ physical and psychological well-being. Of the many inequalities Black people have experienced, some of the most harmful include limited access to fresh food and nutritional guidance; unequal access to health care, particularly preventative care; unethical violations of trust by medical providers; and racially-motivated violence. These inequalities have led to multi-generational health impacts and, in many instances, distrust of the medical community.

More recently, the myriad challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought renewed attention to the need to fulfill America’s promise of civil rights in all aspects of life, including equal access to health care and employment. COVID-19’s health and economic effects have hit Black Americans particularly hard. Black patients are nearly twice as likely as white patients to die from COVID-19. Also, Black people are overrepresented among the frontline essential workers who have risked their health as they keep the American economy running -- caring for elders, children, and the sick; working in warehouses and meatpacking plants; and delivering critical goods.

At the same time, Black workers are among those most affected by job losses, which often have a detrimental effect on health due to the accompanying stress, reduced income to address medical needs, and frequent loss of health care coverage. Black women have experienced some of the most significant job losses. This Black History Month, EEOC’s work is as important as ever to protecting Black workers’ employment rights, especially the rights of essential workers.

In fiscal year 2021 and early fiscal year 2022, EEOC’s work on behalf of Black employees included the following:

  • Filing 23 new lawsuits alleging race or national origin discrimination, including 19 involving discrimination against Black workers;
  • Resolving 21 lawsuits alleging race or national origin discrimination, benefiting 798 individuals;
  • Concluding a $5.5 million settlement with JBS Swift on behalf of Black Somali Muslim employees to resolve race, national origin, and religious discrimination
  • Conciliating a case against a major U.S. employer after finding evidence of discrimination in promotion against Black employees and obtaining more than $10 million in relief and substantial changes to the employer’s policies and practices;
  • Resolving a systemic investigation involving discriminatory client preferences in assignments that disadvantaged Black workers by obtaining more than $100,000 for the workers and changed practices that ended assignments based on race;
  • Conducting 261 outreach sessions involving issues related to race, which were attended by 35,162 individuals, and 245 sessions on national origin discrimination, with 16,521 attendees;
  • Resolving a case against Chicago Meat Authority, which EEOC found had discriminated against Black applicants in hiring, subjected Black employees to racial harassment, and fired a Black employee because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment. The consent decree provides for $1.1 million for the workers; the hire of rejected Black applicants who still want jobs at the company; good faith efforts to hire additional Black employees; and anti-harassment training and policies.

The EEOC also launched two major joint initiatives to assist and protect workers who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination:

  • In November 2021, we partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board to combat unlawful retaliation, which is raised in roughly 56% of charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC, and often impacts Black employees and other marginalized workers.
  • In January 2022, we partnered with the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to launch HIRE, a Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity. Through HIRE, we plan to identify innovative and evidence-based practices that will help Black employees and other workers from underrepresented communities gain equal access to good jobs and help employers access talent.

This Black History Month, we honor Black Americans for their notable achievements in healthcare and all aspects of American life, despite the limitations of discrimination. The EEOC is committed to protecting the civil rights of Black employees so that, as the nation recovers from the pandemic, all of us can share fully in the benefits.