Discrimination against job seekers a persistent, national problem

As if the nationwide hiring slump and struggling economy weren't challenging enough, job seekers often encounter debilitating discrimination based on their race, sex, age, national origin or other protected characteristic. This was the conclusion - and source of discussion - by a group of experts in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) meeting.

EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez opened the meeting by singling out a hiring case involving Wal-Mart rejecting two deaf applicants. As part of the negotiated settlement (for which Lopez was an EEOC trial attorney), the mega retailer aired a commercial on Arizona television featuring the two individuals telling their story and informing the public about the nation's equal employment laws.

"Unfortunately, discriminatory hiring practices … continue to exist," Lopez advised.

Bill Lann Lee, a former U.S. assistant attorney general for Civil Rights, implored the EEOC to combat hiring discrimination. "Systemic discrimination in hiring today is particularly disheartening to communities where joblessness has put the American Dream on hold," he said.

Lee continues: "Hiring discrimination is a fundamental problem; it often denies more than one employment opportunity, cutting off future opportunities as well."

Among the other participants, Marc Bendick, an employment discrimination researcher for Bendick & Egan Economic Consultants, Inc., shared that unfair hiring practices are especially problematic in the following industries: advertising, construction, firefighting, restaurant, retail, employment placement, financial services, television and film production, and high technology.

Finally, Rae T. Vann, general counsel of the Equal Employment Advisory Council - an organization of major employers - underscored the need to train and monitor staff involved in the hiring process.

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