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Paperback and E-Book: Conducting Civil Rights Investigations in Government Programs and Activities

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

This is the only book on the market that focuses on discrimination complaint investigations in a wide range of Federally-assisted, public-facing programs and activities! Reviews by State and local equal opportunity officials in 2017 include “I love your book,” and the book is “outstanding,” “easy to follow,” and “extremely useful.”

Paperback:
Cost: $19.99 per copy

Go to www.outskirtspress.com/civilrights; or

Email the author at seena@titleviconsulting.com, and you will receive an invoice by PayPal; or

Mail a check for $19.99 per book (plus $3.00 per book for shipping and handling in the United States) payable to Title VI Consulting at 107 S. West St., PMB 713, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Electronic book:
Cost: $9.99 per electronic copy

Available through Nook, or Kindle. For iPad and iTunes, you’ll find the book in the “Law Library.” Access the e-book through the publisher at http://www.outskirtspress.com/civilrights.

Reviewers describe the book as “the most thorough and the best product on the market,” “an eye-opening experience,” “an excellent reference book,” and “an invaluable resource for its target audience of professionals who must respond to complaints of discrimination.”

About the Book

In Civil Rights Investigations, Ms. Foster assembles a tremendous amount of information, presents it in an organized and easy-to-understand format, and delivers it to you along with practical and useful guidance. Whether you are a novice or expert, this book is a truly exceptional resource that takes you step-by-step through the investigative process. And, the teachings offered are applicable to any discrimination complaint investigation.

Starting with the basics of knowing whether you have a complaint and authority to investigate it, to navigating more in-depth concepts such as understanding the burdens of the parties, properly framing the issues of an investigation, interviewing witnesses, analyzing conflicting evidence, and writing final determinations, Civil Rights Investigations is with you each step of the way, providing insights, tips, and examples.

A wide array of discriminatory bases is explored, including race, color, national origin, gender, sexual harassment, religion, disability, political affiliation, citizenship, and age. And, the book contains sample interrogatories covering numerous adverse actions in government programs such as denial of access, denial of training, denial of services, denial of benefits, and denial of proposals or bids. Other sample interrogatories address adverse actions in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, reasonable accommodation, reasonable modification, retaliation, termination, non-selection, non-promotion, adverse performance appraisals, and damages. Finally, the book contains a jurisdiction checklist as well as templates for every stage of the investigation–from notifying the parties that you do not have jurisdiction to investigate a complaint or notifying the parties you have accepted a complaint for investigation to sample complaint investigation plans and a sample final determination on the merits of a complaint.

Civil Rights Investigations is packed with useful information, and it serves as a top-of-the-line resource for any public or private sector equal opportunity professional.

Civil Rights Investigations addresses several Federal civil rights statutes, including Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. Its guidance, however, is useful in any civil rights discrimination investigation, and in developing and implementing preventative measures.

Reviews of the Book

Get this one-of-a-kind book judged by a panel of industry experts as a Finalist in the Business Reference category of The USA “Best Books 2011″ Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. The book also received a Bronze Medal in the Government/Politics category (top 5% of over 3,000 entries) for the 2012 International Readers Favorite Book Awards. And, in October 2012, Ms. Foster was announced as a “Finalist of 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading,” presented by The Authors Show. In October 2013, Civil Rights Investigations was Amazon’s Featured Title of the Week.

Lisa Connor states: “You obviously have a passion for your subject matter–you present your findings in a very well-researched, thorough manner. … I have to say that you have put together an excellent piece”

Omoye Cooper of Albany, New York states: “I have worked in the field of Equal Opportunity for over 30 years and have attended numerous trainings on EO investigations. After attending Seena Foster’s Civil Rights Investigations workshop, I can say without a doubt that it is the most thorough and the best product on the market. Ms. Foster not only gives the technical information, but she also provides step by step guidelines and tools for effective implementation.”

“Ms. Foster’s workshops and book, “Civil Rights Investigations,” are professional resources that are highly recommended for all new and seasoned AA and EEO practitioners. Utilization of her materials will help new EEO professionals build a solid knowledge base that will make it possible to conduct defendable investigations; and for the veteran practitioners, it will take you to another level. Outstanding!”

Readers Favorite (5 out of 5 star ratings):

Brenda Ballard states: Discrimination is a very real problem in the work place but what can a person do? Seena K. Foster, author of “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act” leads the reader through the law, the process and the various scenarios of the subject. Citing law and providing examples of letters and check lists, information is outlined in concise and understandable terms. The subject matter is broken down into the simplest legal language possible considering the depth and complexity. Believable examples make sense of it all, guiding the reader step by step.

As anybody knows, legal reading can be dry and confusing. Admittedly, there were a few places I personally had to re-read but that would be attributed to my own lack of experience with the subject. I found the examples very useful and was able to utilize the bullet points and checklists to realize the meaning of it all. It was an eye-opening learning experience to read this book! I never realized how much is involved in filing such a suit, getting an investigation underway, working with both parties, and finding resolution. Businesses should consider having this book in their own library as a reference guide in their personnel department. This work could be used as a stand-alone in training sessions for employees and managements. The tremendous effort the author has put into “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act” is immediately evident. Nothing is left to question and, should there be any residual wonder, references can be looked up. Highly recommended! 5 out of 5 stars!

Lori M. states: Because I am currently taking a graduate-level Human Resources class in Employment Law, this book about civil rights investigations by Seena K. Foster interested me very much. This would make an excellent reference book for HR managers, lawyers, and anyone involved in employee or labor issues. It is very well-organized and provides just the right amount of information that you need on a number of different topics. Foster, who has a law degree, does a good job making the contents interesting, understandable, and easy to follow.

There are specific sections defining race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, citizenship, and disability issues in depth so that any reader can understand what constitutes the definition of discrimination against each. Additionally, she takes you through the steps of how to determine whether or not you have a discrimination complaint, a glossary of terms, jurisdiction, and filing the complaint. I like how Foster included easy-to-use checklists throughout the book to graphically depict what she has already told you in the text. It is a good way to help the reader grasp the information provided and double-check the details. This book talks about statutes of limitations and time frames within which a party has to file a complaint, notifying the parties of a complaint, jurisdictional issues, and even alternative dispute resolution topics such as arbitration or mediation. This book is a great toolkit for those interested in employment law matters dealing with civil rights investigations under the workforce investment act and Title VI-related laws. 5 out of 5 stars!

Alice D. states: “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws” is a book that really needed to be written and now it has been, thank goodness! Author Seena Foster has created a book that focuses on the treatment of individual and class action complaints. From the beginning where she asks the readers to decide whether they have a complaint and whether there is jurisdiction to investigate the complaint, Foster clearly establishes that those pursuing an issue such as discrimination must have merit; in other words, they must have a covered basis such as race, gender and nationality. She is quite clear in insisting that the person charged with the complaint must receive federal funds, and the CP, the charging party, must know how to organize a complaint, how to fill it with statistics and witness information. Then she shows the reader how exactly the CP and the respondent must reply in cases involving such things as employment, hostile work environ ment, and disability. She discusses sexual harassment, especially in the school environment, and writes about the use of mediation in helping parties come to a mutually acceptable solution. Do you think your civil rights have been violated at work? This is the book for you.

“Civil Rights Investigations” is not the type of book that people will grab off bookstore shelves, but they should. Author Seena Foster discusses, clearly and concisely, how the charging party and the respondent should respond in a variety of cases. Chapter after chapter deals with how to handle potential civil rights violations in the workplace and in federally funded programs and activities that have an impact on all of us. The author states that those filing the complaint must give details like why they were not hired, etc., and those who answer the claim must show the same clarity in their response. Specific and easy to read, this book should be in readers’ hands everywhere. 5 out of 5 stars!

Laurie Gray states: “Civil Rights Investigations under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI-Related Laws from Intake to Final Determination” by Seena K. Foster offers guidance to professionals handling discrimination complaints for governmental agencies and employers that receive federal funding covered by the Workforce Investment Act of 1964. The book focuses on individual and class actions as opposed to third-party complaints, identifying and devoting a chapter to each protected class: race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, citizenship, age, political affiliation and belief. The chapters on sexual harassment, religion, and disability are most comprehensive. Foster provides specific examples, sample notices, and clear explanations on how to assess the merit of each complaint, properly frame the issues, develop a Complaint Investigation Plan, and investigate complaints without violating confidentiality policies. She further outlines the relevant burdens of proof and reliability of direct, circumstantial and comparative evidence. Though not for the average lay person, this book is an invaluable resource for its target audience of professionals who must respond to complaints of discrimination in a timely and consistent manner or risk losing their agencies’ federal funding. Ms. Foster clearly understands complex federal laws and regulations and concisely organizes the information in a user-friendly way, highlighting important deadlines, providing detailed questions to ask complaining parties and respondents, and encouraging professionals to seek competent legal advice when necessary. An introduction, conclusion and biography outlining the author’s credentials would be helpful additions to the next edition of the book. I do hope that Ms. Foster will update this informative guide as the laws continue to evolve. 5 out of 5 stars!

Your Discrimination Complaint Log

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

As the Equal Opportunity professional for an agency or entity administering federally funded programs and activities, you must develop and publish discrimination complaint policies and procedures. And, as part of those procedures, you must maintain a discrimination complaint log.

In this paper, we will discuss what is included in the log (including how to distinguish between discrimination complaints and program complaints), why the log is important, whether you include complaints that are settled, dismissed, or withdrawn, and how you properly classify (and investigate) pregnancy-related complaints as well as complaints involving harassment and hostile environment.

What do I include in the log?

The U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees compliance with, and enforcement of, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and related laws, states the following:

Each federal agency shall maintain a log of Title VI complaints filed with it, and with its recipients, identifying each complainant by race, color, or national origin; the recipient; the nature of the complaint; the dates the complaint was filed and the investigation completed; the disposition; the date of disposition; and other pertinent information.

. . .

Federal agencies shall report to the Assistant Attorney General on January 1, 1977, and each six months thereafter, the receipt, nature and disposition of all such Title VI complaints.

28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d). And, directly related to your work, these regulations further provide:

Each recipient processing Title VI complaints shall be required to maintain a similar log.

28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d).

In developing and maintaining a discrimination complaint log, one of the key things to keep in mind is that not all types of complaints are recorded in this log. In particular, only those complaints alleging discrimination on a prohibited “basis” are included in this log. These are known as “discrimination complaints.” Here, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency and the bases of discrimination prohibited by those laws.

On the other hand, if you receive a complaint that does not allege discrimination on a prohibited basis, you will not have jurisdiction to investigate this complaint under federal civil rights laws and the complaint would not be noted in your log. These types of complaints are known as “program complaints.”

As an example, Jane Doe files a complaint with you alleging that she was denied federally funded rental housing assistance because her income level is too high. She states that the income level requirements for the program should be lowered. Here, Jane has not alleged denial of the assistance because of race, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, or the like. Rather, she seeks adjustment of the program’s income level requirements. This is a “program complaint” and would be processed under the federal funding agency’s regulations for operating the program.

If Jane Doe alleges, however, that the black housing counselor denied Jane’s application for federally funded rental housing assistance because Jane is white, then you have a “discrimination complaint” that would be included in your log. Namely, Jane alleges denial of rental housing assistance on the basis of race/color.

Why is the complaint log important?

The complaint log is a valuable asset to you in monitoring your programs and activities to ensure compliance with Title VI and related laws. Preferably, you want to identify and resolve discrimination-related problems at your level as opposed to allowing these problems to draw the interest of your federal funding agency.

Using your complaint log, you will be able to identify instances of alleged discrimination by (1) program or activity, and (2) basis. For example, let’s say you notice an increase in complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in a computer skills training program. Review of your complaint log leads you to notice that nearly all of the complaints involve denial of access to the training facility, which is located on the second floor of a building without an elevator. At this point, you have pinpointed the program or activity (computer skills training) and the basis (disability) of a trend of complaints. With this knowledge, you can approach your training folks to bring the operation of this program into compliance with federal civil rights laws, such as relocating the computer skills training program to the first floor of the building, or moving it to another building that has an elevator.

Properly maintaining your complaint log also will enable you to respond to requests for this data from your federal funding agency, Governor’s office, or the like. And, at times, federal agencies will conduct compliance reviews or desk audits to check compliance with Title VI and related laws and your organization may be selected. Inevitably, one of the key records you will be asked to produce during the review or audit is your discrimination complaint log.

Determine your federal funding agency’s requirements

Because you operate federally assisted programs and activities, you must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of race, color, and national origin in compliance with Title VI. The same holds true for the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Finally, you also must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of age under the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Beyond these statutes, however, many federal funding agencies will enforce additional civil rights laws. To properly develop a discrimination complaint log for your programs and activities, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency.

With regard to the laws it enforces, a federal agency will have regulations located in the Code of Federal Regulations addressing requirements for developing and maintaining your discrimination complaint log. For example, if you receive Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I funding, regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) require that you maintain a log of complaints alleging discrimination on any one or more of the following bases:

● race
● color
● national origin
● religion
● sex
● disability
● age
● political affiliation or belief
● citizenship
● participation in a WIOA-financially assisted program or activity

Moreover, the complaint log must include:

● name and address of the complainant
● the basis of the complaint
● the date the complaint was filed
● the disposition and date disposition was issued
● “other pertinent information”

Finally, DOL regulations require that all records regarding complaints and actions taken on complaints must be maintained for a period of not less than three years from the date of resolution of the complaint. Indeed, DOL’s Civil Rights Center has developed a standardized format that it requires you to use. This standardized complaint log is found at https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/crc/Discrimination3.htm.

Check with the civil rights office of your federal funding agency for similar regulations and standardized complaint log information.

What if I settle the complaint informally?

You are required to enter information pertaining to any discrimination complaint filed, regardless of whether the complaint is decided on the merits, dismissed for lack of probable cause, settled (even settled “informally” or early in the process), or withdrawn.

What types of complaints must be included in the log?

All types of discrimination complaints must be included in your log. This will include individual, class action, and third party complaints. As you are aware, an individual complaint is where an individual comes to you and alleges that s/he has been discriminated against in one of your programs or activities. For example, Josh files a complaint alleging that his bid for a federally funded transportation contract was rejected because he is from Israel. This is an individual complaint alleging national origin-based discrimination.

A class action involves a group of individuals alleging similar acts of discrimination on the same basis (e.g., race, color, national origin, and so on). One example of a class action is where a group of individuals allege that they were denied entry into a federally funded apprenticeship program for welders because they are women.

Finally, there is the third party complaint. As an example, La RAZA complains that your agency only provides unemployment insurance forms in English. La RAZA states that its members cannot complete the application process because they are limited English proficient (LEP) and their native language is Spanish. So, La RAZA has not been injured directly, but is alleging that your unemployment insurance process has a discriminatory impact on an entire class of potential beneficiaries (LEP persons). While you may utilize this type of complaint to conduct monitoring or a compliance review of your the program as opposed to processing the complaint through your traditional discrimination complaint process, it is important to include it in your complaint log.

How do I classify harassment and hostile environment complaints?

When we talk about harassment or hostile environment, most of us think of sexual harassment or hostile sexual environment. However, harassment or hostile environment may occur on any prohibited basis (race, color, national origin, age, disability, and so on). As an example, one student uses Facebook to repeatedly post derogatory remarks about another student from Morocco repeatedly calling the student “terrorist” and the like. The Facebook posts have “gone viral”, and the targeted student subsequently was attacked at your school. You receive a complaint from him. This is a national origin-based hostile environment complaint and would be recorded as such in your complaint log.

And, keep in mind that hostile environment complaints usually involve a series of adverse actions alleged to have occurred because of a person’s race, color, national origin, disability, or the like. So long as a hostile environment complaint is filed within 180 days of the last adverse act, then it is timely and you may consider the entire series of adverse acts to determine whether prohibited hostile environment discrimination occurred.

How do I classify pregnancy-related complaints?

Pregnancy-related complaints often create confusion for the investigator. It is common for these types of complaints to be viewed as disability-related, but most of them are not. Complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of past, present, or the possibility of future pregnancy should be logged (and investigated) as gender-based complaints. Only if the complainant alleges discrimination based on a medical condition or disability resulting from the pregnancy would you investigate this complaint as a disability-based complaint. Pregnancy, standing alone, is not disability.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.”

Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

“EO Is the Law” and “EEO is THE LAW”: Understanding Some of The Distinctions

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Depending on your source(s) of federal funding, there are certain required notices and posters that must be displayed prominently throughout areas where you meet, greet, and work with members of your public.  For example, if you receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for public housing, you are required to place “Fair Housing is The Law” posters throughout the areas where you interact with the public. For entities that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you are required to post the “Non-Discrimination Notice and Non-Discrimination Statement.” Recipients of funding by the U.S. Department of Education also must post a nondiscrimination notice.

These notices and posters are intended to promote compliance with federal civil rights laws by notifying members of (1) the public of their right to nondiscrimination, and (2) your staff of their obligations to conduct programs and activities in compliance with applicable civil rights laws.

Knowing what federal posters to display in the area of equal opportunity often can be confusing.  And, this is particularly true for Equal Opportunity (EO) Officers of agencies, organizations, and other entities that deliver services, aid, training, and benefits funded under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), amending the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  For WIOA-funded programs and activities, the “Equal Opportunity is The Law” (referred to as “EO Is the Law”) poster must be prominently displayed throughout all public areas.  Recipients of WIOA Title I-financial assistance include state and local governments, American Job Network centers, Job Corps centers, local Workforce Investment Boards, Unemployment Insurance call centers, colleges, universities, and many other providers involved in the system of delivering WIOA Title I-related aid, benefits, services, and training.

The “EO Is the Law” poster, however, is often confused with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “Equal Employment Opportunity is The Law” (referred to as the “EEO Is the Law”) poster.  Similarities in the titles of these notices often lead to confusion in understanding some of their differences.

For purposes of this paper, we will assume you serve as the EO Officer for an entity offering WIOA-funded workforce development programs and activities.  By law, the “EO Is the Law” notice must be prominently displayed throughout your public areas.  29 C.F.R. § 37.30 (WIA); 29 C.F.R. § 38.34, 38.36, and 38.39 (WIOA).

    The “Equal Opportunity Is the Law” notice

Equal Opportunity Is the Law

 It is against the law for this recipient of Federal financial assistance under WIOA-Title I to discriminate on the following bases:

against any individual in the United States, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation or belief; and

against any beneficiary of programs financially assisted under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), on the basis of the beneficiary’s citizenship/status as a lawfully admitted immigrant authorized to work in the United States, or his or her participation in any WIOA Title I-financially assisted program or activity.

The recipient must not discriminate in any of the following areas:

deciding who will be admitted, or have access, to any WIOA-Title I financially assisted program or activity;

providing opportunities in, or treating any person with regard to, such a program or activity; or

making employment decisions in the administration of, or in connection with, such a program or activity.

 What to Do If You Believe You Have Experienced Discrimination

 If you think that you have been subjected to discrimination under a WIOA Title I-financially assisted program or activity, you may file a complaint within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation with either:

the recipient’s Equal Opportunity Officer (or the person whom the recipient has designated for this purpose); or

the Director, Civil Rights Center (CRC), U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-4123, Washington, DC 20210.

If you file your complaint with the recipient, you must wait either until the recipient issues a written Notice of Final Action, or until 90 days have passed (whichever is sooner), before filing with the Civil Rights Center (see address above).

If the recipient does not give you a written Notice of Final Action within 90 days of the day on which you filed your complaint, you do not have to wait for the recipient to issue that Notice before filing a complaint with CRC. However, you must file your CRC complaint within 30 days of the 90-day deadline (in other words, within 120 days after the day on which you filed your complaint with the recipient).

If the recipient does give you a written Notice of Final Action on your complaint, but you are dissatisfied with the decision or resolution, you may file a complaint with CRC. You must file your CRC complaint within 30 days of the date on which you received the Notice of Final Action.

√    Initial and continuing notice required

As the EO professional for a recipient of WIOA-Title I financial assistance, you must ensure that “initial and continuing notice” is provided.  29 C.F.R. § 37.29 (WIA); 29 C.F.R. § 38.34, 38.36, and 38.39 (WIOA).  What does this mean?

This means the “EO Is the Law” notice must be “prominently” posted in a variety of places at your center, agency, facility, office headquarters, and the like.  And, it must be available in an alternative formats for persons with disabilities.

You must document initial and continuing notice to a beneficiary or potential beneficiary.  For this reason, you must ensure there is “a record that such notice has been given” in “the participant’s file.”

Persons who are limited English proficient (LEP) also must receive notice.  Consequently, the “EO Is the Law” notice should be available in appropriate languages.  Check with your state EO leadership, or with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center, for LEP-related materials, including versions of the “EO Is the Law” notice in other languages.  The U.S. Department of Justice Web site, at www.lep.gov, also offers valuable guidance.  

Providing notice on a “continuing basis” means, in addition to prominently-placed posters, the notice must be communicated through internal memoranda and other written or electronic communications.  It must be included in your handbooks and materials.

Continuing notice extends to including taglines that the recipient is an “equal opportunity employer/program,” and “auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to persons with disabilities” in your:

●     recruitment brochures;

●    orientation materials and presentations;

●    written and oral communications to staff, clients, or the public regarding WIOA-Title I programs and activities; and

●    publications and broadcasts regarding the WIOA-Title I programs and activities.

Moreover, during each orientation session, you must include a discussion of rights under WIOA’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions at Section 188, including the right to file a complaint of discrimination with the Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center.

    The “EEO Is the Law” notice

The “EEO Is the Law” notice was developed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC’s “EEO Is the Law” notice reads, in part, as follows:

Equal Employment Opportunity is THE LAW

 Private Employers, State and Local Governments, Educational Institutions, Employment Agencies and Labor Organizations

Applicants to and employees of most private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions, employment agencies and labor organizations are protected under Federal law from discrimination on the following bases:

RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects applicants and employees from discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Religious discrimination includes failing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices where the accommodation does not impose undue hardship.

DISABILITY

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, protect qualified individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. Disability discrimination includes not making reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, barring undue hardship.

AGE

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, protects applicants and employees 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment.

SEX (WAGES)

In addition to sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended, prohibits sex discrimination in the payment of wages to women and men performing substantially equal work, in jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, under similar working conditions, in the same establishment.

GENETICS

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on genetic information in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. GINA also restricts employers’ acquisition of genetic information and strictly limits disclosure of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about genetic tests of applicants, employees, or their family members; the manifestation of diseases or disorders in family members (family medical history); and requests for or receipt of genetic services by applicants, employees, or their family members.

RETALIATION

All of these Federal laws prohibit covered entities from retaliating against a person who files a charge of discrimination, participates in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposes an unlawful employment practice.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE DISCRIMINATION HAS OCCURRED

There are strict time limits for filing charges of employment discrimination. To preserve the ability of EEOC to act on your behalf and to protect your right to file a private lawsuit, should you ultimately need to, you should contact EEOC promptly when discrimination is suspected: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 1-800-669-4000 (toll-free) or 1-800-669-6820 (toll-free TTY number for individuals with hearing impairments). EEOC field office information is available at www.eeoc.gov or in most telephone directories in the U.S. Government or Federal Government section. Additional information about EEOC, including information about charge filing, is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Employers Holding Federal Contracts or Subcontracts

Applicants to and employees of companies with a Federal government contract or subcontract are protected under Federal law from discrimination on the following bases:

RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN

Executive Order 11246, as amended, prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and requires affirmative action to ensure equality of opportunity in all aspects of employment.

INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, protects qualified individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. Disability discrimination includes not making reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, barring undue hardship. Section 503 also requires that Federal contractors take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities at all levels of employment, including the executive level.

DISABLED, RECENTLY SEPARATED, OTHER PROTECTED, AND ARMED FORCES SERVICE MEDAL VETERANS

The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, 38 U.S.C. 4212, prohibits job discrimination and requires affirmative action to employ and advance in employment disabled veterans, recently separated veterans (within three years of discharge or release from active duty), other protected veterans (veterans who served during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized), and Armed Forces service medal veterans (veterans who, while on active duty, participated in a U.S. military operation for which an Armed Forces service medal was awarded).

RETALIATION

Retaliation is prohibited against a person who files a complaint of discrimination, participates in an OFCCP proceeding, or otherwise opposes discrimination under these Federal laws.

Any person who believes a contractor has violated its nondiscrimination or affirmative action obligations under the authorities above should contact immediately:

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, 1-800-397-6251 (toll-free) or (202) 693-1337 (TTY). OFCCP may also be contacted by e-mail at OFCCP-Public@dol.gov, or by calling an OFCCP regional or district office, listed in most telephone directories under U.S. Government, Department of Labor.

√    Comparing the notices

Comparing the “EO Is the Law” notice with the “EEO is THE LAW” notice, we see both notices set forth nondiscrimination requirements, and inform us regarding where to file a discrimination complaint.  However, the “EEO is THE LAW” notice is limited to addressing nondiscrimination with regard to employment practices, whereas the “EO Is the Law” notice is much broader—it applies to employment practices of WIOA-Title I funded recipients and sub-recipients as well as the entire system of delivering WIOA-Title I funded aid, training, benefits, and services to the public.

Moreover, while some “bases” of prohibited discrimination are the same in the two notices (race, color, national origin, religion, disability, gender), there also are important differences.  For example, the WIOA-related “EO Is the Law” notice also prohibits discrimination on the bases of citizenship, WIOA participant status, and political affiliation.  And, the “EEO is THE LAW” notice prohibits discrimination in employment practices on the basis of genetics.

Additionally, although both notices prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, the “EEO is THE LAW” nondiscrimination provisions apply to persons over 40 years of age in the workplace.  But, the age-based nondiscrimination provisions of the “EO Is the Law” notice prohibit discrimination on the basis of any age in WIOA-Title I-related employment practices as well as in the delivery of WIOA-Title I funded programs and activities.

Finally, both notices provide instructions for filing discrimination complaints, but we see the complaints are filed at different locations.  The WIOA-related “EO Is the Law” notice provides that complaints may be filed within 180 days of the date of the adverse action with:

√  the recipient’s Equal Opportunity Officer (or the person whom the recipient has designated for this purpose); or

√ the Director, Civil Rights Center (CRC), U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-4123, Washington, DC 20210.

This is compared to the discrimination complaint process set forth in the “EEO is THE LAW” notice, which provides:

There are strict time limits for filing charges of employment discrimination. To preserve the ability of EEOC to act on your behalf and to protect your right to file a private lawsuit, should you ultimately need to, you should contact EEOC promptly when discrimination is suspected: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 1-800-669-4000 (toll-free) or 1-800-669-6820 (toll-free TTY number for individuals with hearing impairments). EEOC field office information is available at www.eeoc.gov or in most telephone directories in the U.S. Government or Federal Government section. Additional information about EEOC, including information about charge filing, is available at www.eeoc.gov.

√    Conclusion

If you operate WIOA-Title I financially assisted programs and activities, you must prominently display, and provide initial and ongoing notice of, the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Equal Opportunity Is The Law” notice at your agency, American Job Network Centers (also known as “One Stops”), Local Workforce Investment Board offices, Unemployment Insurance call centers, Job Corps Centers, operator offices, service provider locations, and the like.  You cannot rely solely on the “EEO is THE LAW” notice to meet this requirement.  And, this notice must be provided to each participant of your WIOA-Title I financially assisted programs and activities, and this must be documented in each participant’s file (usually this is accomplished by placing a copy of the notice with the participant’s signature on it in the participant’s file).

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.”

Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. She is a member of the Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

Political Affiliation Discrimination by Seena Foster

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Political affiliation discrimination occurs when an adverse action is taken against a person based on the person’s political affiliation or beliefs. Political affiliation discrimination may arise in federally-assisted programs and activities as well as in the workplace. As the equal opportunity professional for your agency or organization, you must know the federal civil rights laws that apply to your agency or organization, and whether those laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of political affiliation.

We are going to explore two areas where political affiliation discrimination is prohibited by federal civil rights laws—one example involves federally-assisted programs and activities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the second example involves employment decisions of public employers.

Federally-assisted programs and activities

Starting with federally-assisted programs and activities, Section 188 of WIOA prohibits discrimination in certain workforce development programs on a variety of bases, including political affiliation or belief. Unemployment insurance benefits, employment referral services, on-the-job training, resume writing, and interview skill development are some examples of the aid, training, services, and benefits funded by the federal government through WIOA. American Job Network centers, Job Corps centers, and certain community colleges are prime examples of WIOA-Title I funded recipients and sub-recipients that are prohibited from engaging in political affiliation discrimination in delivering aid, benefits, services, and training to the public. And, any state, U.S. territory, or other recipient receiving WIOA-Title I funds also must comply with WIOA’s prohibition on political affiliation discrimination.

To provide an example of political affiliation discrimination prohibited by WIOA Section 188, let’s say that a new political party received the majority of votes in your state or U.S. territory. Members of the new party take office and they issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for organizations and companies to apply for WIOA grant monies to deliver training to unemployed persons. Reviewers of the 100 proposals select 25 organizations and companies for the WIOA grants. Of these 25 entities, a total of 24 entities are owned by persons whose known political affiliations are aligned with those of the new party in office. Only one entity has a known political affiliation with the former party in power. Of the 75 entities not selected for the grants, 55 have known political affiliations with the former party, 5 have unknown political affiliations, and 15 have known affiliations with the new party. If the new party has, in fact, considered an entity’s political affiliation in determining whether the entity would receive a WIOA-funded grant, then the new party has engaged in political affiliation-based discrimination in violation of the nondiscrimination mandates of WIOA Section 188. As a result, the RFP process would be null and void.

So, if you administer or operate WIOA-Title I programs or activities, you are prohibited from basing your decisions regarding delivery of aid, benefits, services, or training on an applicant’s, participant’s, or beneficiary’s political affiliation or belief. As the equal professional for an agency or organization operating these programs, you must train staff and decision-makers that aid, benefits, training, and services cannot be doled out based on political affiliation. Monitor your systems of delivery to ensure continued adherence to this nondiscrimination mandate.

Public employers

Turning to the workplace, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which applies to public employers and is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983, prohibits political affiliation discrimination. Public employers include state and local governments as well as other entities like publicly-funded colleges and universities, the police, and so on. This federal civil rights law requires that employment decisions, such as selection, promotion, and termination cannot be based on consideration of the employee’s or potential employee’s political affiliation or belief.

Take, for example, the case of Wagner v. Jones, 664 F.3d 259 (8th Cir. 2011), where the Dean of a publicly-funded college of law denied a legal writing teaching position to an applicant because of the applicant’s political affiliation. Notably, the applicant’s conservative political affiliations and beliefs were apparent from her resume, which reflected a background with certain conservative educational institutions and employers. Evidence of record demonstrated that one out of 50 law school faculty members at the college was a registered Republican. And, the court noted that two, less experienced applicants were later hired for the position at issue. In the end, the court concluded that the Dean presented insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the applicant’s political affiliation was not a factor in the employment decision.

So, if you are the HR/EEO professional for a public employer, engage in training and outreach to managers and supervisors, including political appointees at the highest levels of your agency or organization, and inform them of them of their obligations and responsibilities of nondiscrimination based on political affiliation. Help them understand that political affiliation discrimination can take many forms from the more commonplace acts of non-selection, non-promotion, and termination to other acts such as engaging in hostile environment based on political affiliation, providing an adverse performance appraisal, relocating a worker to a less desirable office, and so on. Managers and supervisors should base employment-related decisions on the knowledge, skills, and abilities evident from an applicant’s educational background and experience, not the applicant’s political affiliation or belief.

However, for public employers, there is an exception to this rule that merits comment. Notably, employment decisions related to “confidential” employees and senior “policy-makers” may be based on the employee’s or potential employee’s political affiliation or belief without running afoul of federal civil rights laws. Keep in mind that this exception will apply to a very narrow category of folks working for, or seeking to work for, a public employer.

Here, we’ll take a look at another circuit court case that is illustrative. In Soderbeck v. Burnett County, Wisconsin, 752 F.2d 285 (7th Cir. 1985), the circuit court was confronted with a newly-elected sheriff’s decision to terminate an office employee because the employee was the wife of the former sheriff who lost the election. The Seventh Circuit provides a helpful discussion on the issue of “confidential” employees and “policy-makers” in the context of political affiliation discrimination:

A public agency that fires an employee because of his political beliefs or political affiliations infringes his freedom of speech, see Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976), but there are exceptions to this principle, carved out to minimize its adverse impact on the effective functioning of government. For example, employees at the policy-making level of government can be fired on political grounds. Id. at 367-68 (plurality opinion); Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, 722 F.2d 1307, 1309-10 (7th Cir.1983) (per curiam). Mrs. Soderbeck was not a policy maker; but if, as the defendants argue, she was the sheriff’s confidential secretary, then Kellberg could fire her without violating the Constitution. See Stegmaier v. Trammell, 597 F.2d 1027, 1038 (5th Cir.1979) (dictum). You cannot run a government with officials who are forced to keep political enemies as their confidential secretaries, and Mrs. Soderbeck was the political enemy of her husband’s political enemy, Kellberg. Any implication of the plurality opinion in Elrod v. Burns that only a policy maker is unprotected by the principle announced in that case was superseded by the broader formulation in the majority opinion in Branti v. Finkel, which allows an employee to be fired if ‘the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved.’ 445 U.S. at 518, 100 S.Ct. at 1294. See also Livas v. Petka, 711 F.2d 798, 800-01 (7th Cir.1983). It need not be a policy-making office. If Rosalynn Carter had been President Carter’s secretary, President Reagan would not have had to keep her on as his secretary.

Mrs. Soderbeck, however, had been trained as a bookkeeper and her title was bookkeeper, not secretary or confidential secretary; and though she did do most of the typing in the sheriff’s office, there was evidence that if the sheriff needed something typed he would hand his handwritten draft to whoever in the office was handy. Burnett County has a population of only 12,000 and a tiny sheriff’s office whose six employees at the time of Mrs. Soderbeck’s termination did not have sharply differentiated tasks; it was only after she was fired that a position of “confidential secretary” was created with a different job description from that of the bookkeeper’s position that Mrs. Soderbeck had occupied. So while she did typing and handled legal papers, such as summonses and warrants, the other employees did these things too. She also did janitorial work, and performed domestic chores for the prisoners in the county jail (which is in the same building as the sheriff’s office and home) as jail matron and laundress–not the usual functions of a confidential secretary. And she did not take dictation–no one in the office did. If she could be fired as a confidential employee, so could anyone else employed in the office, on the theory that if an office is small enough the tasks usually performed by the boss’s personal secretary may be parceled out among all the employees.

This is not to say that Mrs. Soderbeck was, as a matter of law, an employee who could not be fired because of her political affiliation. It is to say merely that the question was sufficiently uncertain to be one for the jury to decide. The defendants argue that whether or not an employee exercises a policy-making role or is a repository of confidences that make loyalty an essential part of his job description should always be a question of law, but we cannot agree with this point, for which no authority is offered, and which has been rejected in previous cases in this and other circuits. See, e.g., Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1169 (7th Cir.1981); Stegmaier v. Trammell, supra, 597 F.2d at 1034 n. 8, and cases cited there.

If you are the HR/EEO professional for a public employer seeking to terminate, or take some other adverse action, against an employee because of the employee’s political affiliation, make sure the employee falls in the category of a “policy-maker” or “confidential employee.” While job titles and job descriptions may assist in this determination but, standing alone, job titles do not determine the outcome. You’ll need to get into the weeds of the employee’s actual day-to-day job duties and functions. Concluding that an employee is, or is not, a “policy-maker” or a “confidential employee” involves very fact specific findings that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” In 2007, Ms. Foster was certified as a mediator by the Virginia Supreme Court, and later obtained “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

“Adverse Actions” in Federal Civil Rights Discrimination Complaints by Seena Foster

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on a wide variety of bases, including race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, gender, and so on.  But, what types of conduct constitute “adverse actions” that may give rise to a complaint of discrimination? 

In federally-funded programs and activities

“Adverse actions” in violation of federal civil rights laws can occur in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities.  This is a less understood area of civil rights, yet the reach of federally- funded programs and activities is far and wide and includes public education, transportation, small business development, fair lending, fair housing, unemployment insurance, workforce development, Medicare, environmental justice, employment referral services, and many others.  Here, federally-funded services, benefits, aid, and training must be delivered to members of the public in compliance with nondiscrimination and equal opportunity mandates of applicable civil rights laws.

There are a variety of “adverse actions” that may occur in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities.  Some “adverse actions” are similar to those found in workplace discrimination complaints such as harassment and hostile environment, or refusal to provide religious-based or disability-based reasonable accommodation.  We’ll illustrate some  “adverse actions” unique to federally-funded programs and activities through use of examples related to Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which governs the delivery of state and local workforce development programs and activities.

WIOA Section 188 mandates nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of WIOA Title I-financially assisted aid, training, benefits and services on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, gender, age, political affiliation or belief, and citizenship among others.  For purposes of these examples, we’ll assume that you are the Equal Opportunity Officer for a American Job Network center or a Job Corps Center and, in this capacity, you investigate complaints of discrimination.

√     Denying aid, training, benefits, or services

Steven tells you that he was denied enrollment in an on-the-job training program.  At this point, Steven has not alleged a violation of any civil rights laws.  However, if Steven says he was denied enrollment in an on-the-job training program because he is black, then he has alleged a violation of civil rights laws.  Specifically, Steven asserts an “adverse action” (denial of enrollment in an on-the-job training program) on a prohibited basis (color).

√     Denying access to apply for aid, training, benefits, or services

Maria alleges she was laid-off from her job.  She tells you that, when she walked into the American Job Network center, she was not able to apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.  So far, Maria has asserted an “adverse action” (denial of access to apply for UI benefits), but she hasn’t asserted a violation of any federal civil rights law.  But, if Maria tells you that she is limited English proficient (LEP), and the packet of UI forms were available in English only, then she has alleged a violation of federal civil rights laws.  Notably, Maria alleges an “adverse action” (denial of access to apply for UI benefits) on a prohibited basis (national origin-LEP).

√     Providing one person different aid, training, benefits, or services than is provided others

Here, we look at the conduct of an employment referral counselor at your American Job Network center.  Widget Company has numerous job openings, and the counselor is referring people to fill these openings.  Janet complains that she was referred to a lower-paying position with Widget.  Thus, Janet has alleged an “adverse action” (referral to a lower paying job), but she has not alleged a violation of civil rights laws.  However, if Janet alleges that she was referred to a lower-paying position with Widget, but men with the same credentials were referred to higher-paying positions, then she has presented an alleged violation of civil rights laws.  Namely, Janet asserts an “adverse action” (referral to a lower paying position) on a prohibited basis (gender).

√     Segregating a person, or treating the person separately, with regard to his or her receipt of aid, training, benefits, or services

An example of segregation is where your Job Corps Center offers a computer science course, but requires that “persons with disabilities” attend the course at one classroom location, whereas all other students must attend the course at another classroom location.  Thus, there is an “adverse action” (segregation of classes) on a prohibited basis (disability).  To the extent feasible, you must provide integrated services, aid, training, and benefits allowing persons with disabilities to participate alongside persons without disabilities.

√     Restricting a person’s enjoyment of any advantage or privilege enjoyed by others receiving any aid, training, benefits, or services

Hostile environment offers an example of restricting a person’s enjoyment of federally-funded programs and activities.  Let’s assume that Borek is one of your Job Corps Center students, and he has immigrated to the United States with his family from Iraq.  He files a complaint with you alleging that other students call him a “terrorist” in class and in the hallways, they post derogatory material about him on Facebook, and they repeatedly tell him he should “go back to Iraq where he came from.”  Here, Borek alleges an “adverse action” (being subjected to a hostile environment) on a prohibited basis (national origin).

√      Treating one person differently from others in determining whether s/he satisfies any admission requirement or condition for aid, training, benefits, or services

Here, let’s assume that Marsha informs you that her application for on-the-job training has been denied by Carol, who works at your American Job Network center.  By itself, this denial is an “adverse action,” but it is not a violation of civil rights laws.  However, Marsha further tells you that she met the essential eligibility requirements for referral to on-the-job-training, but Carol told Marsha she was concerned about referring her because Marsha had been pregnant five times within the past seven years.  Now, a civil rights violation has been alleged.  Notably, Marsha asserts an “adverse action” (denial of referral to on-the-job-training) on a prohibited basis (gender-prior pregnancies).

√     Denying or limiting a person with a disability the opportunity to participate in a program or activity

Your American Job Network center offers weekly orientations for any interested members of the public to learn about the services, aid, benefits, and training opportunities offered through the Center.  Jake, who is in a wheelchair, tells you that he was unable to attend the orientation earlier this week because it was offered on the second floor of your building and your building does not have an elevator.  Here, Jake alleged an “adverse action” (denial of access to the orientation) on a prohibited basis (disability).

√     Determining the site or location of a facility that has the purpose or effect of discriminating on a prohibited basis

State and local officials are in the process of determining where to establish a American Job Network center in a particular city, and decide to place the facility near an affluent neighborhood in one suburb of the city.  However, a majority of the city’s population is located on the other, more densely populated side of town.  And, the majority of the population is comprised of Hispanics and African-Americans.  The minorities in this city generally use public transportation, which is widely-available on the densely populated side of town.  The center’s location in the affluent neighborhood is, however, sixteen blocks from the nearest bus stop.  Thus, by locating the center in the affluent neighborhood away from public transportation, the center is not readily-accessible by a majority of the city’s population, most of whom are minorities.  Here, there are allegations of an “adverse action” (location of the facility in a less populated neighborhood that is not readily-accessible by public transportation) on prohibited bases (national origin and race).

√     Imposing different eligibility criteria on a prohibited basis in the delivery of services, aid, benefits, or training

An example here is James alleges his bid for a contract to provide workforce development services for your city has been denied. This constitutes an “adverse action,” but it does not rise to the level of alleged discrimination. However, if James further asserts that his company was required to secure a higher amount of insurance coverage in order to be awarded the contract because he is Hispanic, and that non-Hispanic-owned bidders were required to demonstrate a lower amount of coverage, then discrimination on a prohibited basis is alleged. James alleges an “adverse action” (imposition of different eligibility criteria in requiring higher coverage) on a prohibited basis (national origin).

In this paper, we’ve discussed only a few types of “adverse actions” that may occur in federally-funded programs and activities.  Again, a mere allegation by an individual that s/he suffered an “adverse action” is not sufficient to support a discrimination complaint.  But, allegations by an individual that s/he has suffered an “adverse action” on a prohibited basis do support an allegation of civil rights violations.

As the Equal Opportunity professional for your agency or organization, you should make sure staff at the agency or organization understand federal nondiscrimination and equal opportunity laws applicable to your programs and activities as well as the types of “adverse actions” that may lead to a violation of those laws.  Moreover, you are obliged to notify beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of their rights under these laws.  It is important to have policies and procedures in place, and to conduct periodic training, so that each person in your agency or organization understands his or her role in the mission of delivering services, aid, benefits, and training to the public without imposing discriminatory criteria.  Keep in mind that these nondiscrimination laws cover all aspects of your operations, including outreach and recruitment, registration, counseling and guidance, testing, selection, placement, appointment, referral, training, and promotion and retention.

In the workplace

There are certain “adverse actions” that we typically see in discrimination complaints involving the workplace.  These “adverse actions” include the following:

●  Termination;

●  Non-selection;

●  Non-promotion;

●  Refusal to provide accommodation or modification;

●  Harassment or hostile environment; or

●  Receipt of an adverse performance appraisal.

There are countless other types of “adverse actions” that may occur in the workplace:

●  Relocation to a smaller and/or less desirable office location;

●  Refusal to provide training;

●  Denial of access to equipment and/or resources;

●  Denial of a security clearance;

●  Denial of paid and/or unpaid leave;

●  Exclusion from certain meetings; or

●  Imposition of dress and/or grooming requirements.

This list is not exhaustive; rather, it is designed to give you an idea of what constitutes an employment-related “adverse action.”

Just as with the delivery of government programs and activities, in the workplace, it is important to remember that an “adverse action,” standing alone, does not give rise to a discrimination complaint under federal civil rights laws.  On the other hand, an “adverse action” taken on the basis of race, gender, disability, or the like, does allege a violation of federal civil rights laws.

For example, Michael is blind, and he alleges that his company fired him after he asked for specialized voice-recognition software to assist him in performing certain job duties.  Here, Michael has alleged an “adverse action” (termination) on a prohibited basis (disability).

Another example is where Cheri alleges she was denied a security clearance because her supervisor “doesn’t like her.”  Here, the “adverse action” is denial of a security clearance, but no civil rights violation has been alleged by Cheri; that is, the fact that her supervisor does not like her is not a prohibited basis of discrimination under federal civil rights laws.  On the other hand, if Cheri alleges she was denied a security clearance because she is Hispanic, now she has asserted a violation of civil rights laws; that is, she alleges an “adverse action” (denial of a security clearance) on a prohibited basis (national origin).

If you are an EEO/AA/HR professional for your agency or organization, it is important that you train supervisors and managers regarding their obligations under various federal civil rights laws.  And, you will want to convey any additional requirements imposed by state and local human rights laws.  Taking an “adverse action” against an employee does not, in and of itself, constitute illegal discrimination.  For example, disciplining an employee based on poor work performance or shoddy attendance does not violate civil rights laws.  But, a violation of civil rights laws does exist if the “adverse action” is premised on how an employee looks, what religious beliefs s/he holds (or doesn’t hold), the fact that s/he is over 40 years of age, whether the employee comes to work in a wheelchair, or the like.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background in this area, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” Ms. Foster is a mediator, and obtained “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School. She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association.

Religious Discrimination and Accommodation in Federally-Funded Programs and Activities: An Overview by Seena Foster

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

As the Equal Opportunity (EO) professional for an agency or organization charged with administering federally-funded programs and activities where “religion” is a prohibited basis of discrimination, you should have written policies and procedures for handling requests for religious accommodation. In this paper, we explore some basic concepts related to religious accommodation using the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) as the context for guidance offered.

Some examples of WIOA-funded programs and activities are found at American Job Centers and their affiliates, partners, and service providers offering unemployment insurance benefits, employment referral services, and training. In addition, most Job Corps Centers offer WIOA-funded educational programs and activities designed to get young folks educated, skilled, and employed.

For WIOA-funded programs and activities, one prohibited basis of discrimination is “religion.” And, with this prohibition comes an obligation to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation when requested, if no “undue hardship” is present.

√ “Religious belief or practice” defined

Initially, it is helpful to have a common understanding of how the phrase, “religious belief or practice,” is defined. Because WIOA and its implementing regulations do not define “religious belief or practice,” we may look at how this phrase is defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits religion-based discrimination in the workplace. Here, we find that a “religious belief or practice” may represent mainstream religious views, or the belief or practice may be less common, less understood, and less well-known. And, the concept of “religious belief or practice” includes persons who ascribe to no religious belief or practice at all.

Some examples of “religious belief or practice” under Title VII include, but are not limited to, the following:

● Agnostic
● Atheist
● Buddhist
● Christian
● Hindu
● Jewish
● Kemetic
● Muslim
● Native American spiritual beliefs
● Sikh
● Wicca
● and countless others.

A common thread defining any “religious belief or practice” is that it reflects a person’s views of life, purpose, and death. On the other hand, social, political, and economic philosophies as well as personal preferences do not constitute “religious beliefs or practices” protected by federal civil rights laws.

√ The “religious belief or practice” must be bona fide

Religious-based accommodation is premised on the fact that the asserted “religious belief or practice” is bona fide. Said differently, it is “sincerely held” by the requester. Generally, this requirement is met without difficulty. However, if the requester behaves in a manner that is markedly inconsistent with the professed “religious belief or practice,” then you may determine that the belief or practice is not bona fide or “sincerely held” by the requester. This, in turn, means that there is no obligation to provide accommodation.

√ Essential eligibility requirements must be met

Before entertaining a request for religious accommodation, the requester must meet the “essential eligibility requirements” for the WIOA-funded aid, benefit, service, or training at issue. If a person does not meet the “essential eligibility requirements” for the program or activity, then there is no obligation to provide accommodation.

√ Common religious-based accommodation requests

In federally-funded programs and activities, some common religious-based accommodation requests include:

● Changes in scheduling of programs and activities;
● Modification of testing and selection procedures;
● Modification of dress and/or grooming requirements; and
● Permitting forms of religious expression.

In the workplace, religious-based accommodation requests may take similar forms of:

● Changes in scheduling of work shifts;
● Modification of testing and selection procedures;
● Modification of dress and/or grooming requirements; and
● Permitting forms of religious expression.

Generally, a religious-based accommodation request is made to address conflicts between a federally-funded program or activity and a person’s religious belief or practice. For example, your American Job Center receives a request that orientations for the Center’s programs and activities be scheduled any day of the week except Friday because Friday is considered a “holy day” by the requester. This is an example of a religious-based accommodation request.

In the workplace, the case of Sanchez-Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc., issued by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on March 8, 2012, is illustrative of the types of religious-based accommodation requests an employer may receive. Here, an employee, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, requested Saturdays off from work. AT&T stated that providing the employee with every Saturday off as a matter of course would constitute an undue hardship; rather, as a “reasonable accommodation,” AT&T offered that the employee could: (1) take another position in the company that did not require working on Saturdays; or (2) arrange voluntary “swapping” of shifts with co-workers on his own. The court held that these offered accommodations (even though they differed from the accommodation requested by the employee) were sufficient such that the employee did not demonstrate religious-based discrimination.

√ Communication is a must

If a person seeks accommodation based on his/her religious belief or practice, then the accommodation request must be made known to the recipient delivering the federally-funded programs and activities (such as the American Job Center or Job Corps Center). Magic words are not required, but the requester must convey enough information for the recipient to understand that accommodation is sought pursuant to the requester’s religious beliefs or practices. A recipient cannot be held liable for failure to provide accommodation if it was unaware of the need in the first place.

Information-sharing between the requester and the EO Officer is critical as determinations of accommodation are made on a case-by-case basis after consideration of the particular facts.

√ Avoid discriminatory consideration of requests

If a person meets the essential eligibility requirements for a federally-funded program or activity, and the person requests accommodation based on a bona fide religious belief or practice, then the EO Officer is obliged to avoid consideration of discriminatory criteria when rendering a determination on the accommodation request. Examples of discriminatory criteria are as follows:

● “The person looks like a terrorist”;
● “The person’s beliefs are illogical, inconceivable, or incorrect”;
● “I disagree with the person’s beliefs”;
● “The person’s name is associated with a particular religion”;
● “The person’s name is associated with terrorism”;
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is offensive”;
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is immoral”;
● “I am uncomfortable with the religious belief or practice”; or
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is in the minority.”

It bears repeating that it is discriminatory to employ any of the foregoing criteria, or similar criteria, when considering an accommodation request. Sincerely held religious beliefs and practices are intensely personal, and they must be accepted “as is” for purposes of addressing a religious accommodation request under federal civil rights laws.

√ “Undue hardship”

● Defined

A recipient offering federally-funded programs and activities is obliged to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation unless it can demonstrate “undue hardship”. For example, the regulations implementing WIOA at 29 C.F.R. § 37.4 define “undue hardship” as follows:

For purposes of religious accommodation only, “undue hardship” means any additional, unusual costs, other than de minimis costs, that a particular accommodation would impose upon a recipient. See Trans World Airlines, Inc.v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 81, 84 (1977).

It is the recipient’s burden to demonstrate “undue hardship.”

● Not established, examples of

Asserting speculative, or showing only de minimus costs associated with providing accommodation does not give rise to a finding of “undue hardship.” And, “undue hardship” is not established by a recipient’s mere assertion that providing accommodation for one person will lead to an incoming tide of other requests.

● Factors to consider

As we noted earlier, “undue hardship” must be determined on a case-by-case basis after consideration of all the facts. The following factors may be relevant and are properly considered:

▪ Costs associated with providing the accommodation are identifiable and more than de minimus” in relation to the recipient’s size and operating costs;
▪ Providing the requested accommodation would diminish the efficiency of recipient’s federally-funded programs and activities;
▪ Safety would be impaired by allowing the accommodation;
▪ The requested accommodation would conflict with another civil rights law; or
▪ In the employment context, the requested accommodation violates of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, or violates seniority rights of other employees.

In assessing whether a requested accommodation would conflict with another law, it is important to keep in mind that federally-funded programs and activities operate using taxpayer dollars, and there are taxpayers of all races, colors, national origins, genders, disabilities, and religions. These funds, in turn, are used to provide aid, benefits, services, and training to any member of the public meeting certain essential eligibility requirements. Attached to this federal funding are obligations imposed on the WIOA recipient to ensure nondiscrimination on a variety of bases, including religion, sex, race, national origin, color, disability, and age among others.

So, let’s assume that you are the EO Officer for a Job Corps Center, which provides educational programs and activities. Your Center is located in an area that is largely comprised of persons of a particular religion requiring separation of men and women in educational programs and activities. You receive a request for accommodation by persons of this religious belief asking that you provide separate classes for men and women at your Center. What should you do?

We start with the law. The regulations implementing WIOA bar discrimination on certain “prohibited grounds” as follows:

(a) For the purposes of this section, “prohibited ground” means race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, political affiliation or belief, and for beneficiaries only, citizenship or participation in any WIOA Title I—financially assisted program or activity.

29 C.F.R. § 37.6(a).

And, the regulations further provide that offering segregated or separate programs and activities is a form of discrimination:

(b) A recipient must not, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements, on a prohibited ground:

. . .

(3) Subject an individual to segregation or separate treatment in any matter related to his or her receipt of any aid, benefits, services, or training under a WIOA Title I—funded program or activity; . . ..

29 C.F.R. § 37.6(b)(3).

In our example, the requested accommodation (segregation of men and women in educational programs) would lead your Center to engage in gender-based discrimination in violation of federal law. As previously noted, the law prohibits “segregation or separate treatment” on any “prohibited ground”, which includes sex.

Keep in mind that the same would hold true if you received a religious-based accommodation request seeking segregation based on race, color, national origin, age, or the like. It is not reasonable to discriminate against participants on one of these prohibited bases in order to accommodate a religious belief or practice.

√ Religious accommodation in the workplace; some considerations

If you do not have dress and grooming policies for your workplace, then it would constitute a form of religious-based discrimination to prohibit forms of religious garb or grooming on an ad hoc basis. And, if you do have dress and grooming policies in your workplace then, according to the EEOC, religious accommodation requires making exceptions to those codes to accommodate bona fide religious beliefs and practices. With or without grooming codes in place, it is incumbent on an employer to allow dress and grooming practices of sincerely-held religious beliefs, unless it would create “undue hardship.”

The standard for “undue hardship” is different for religious-based accommodation requests than for disability-based accommodation requests. Notably, in the case of a disability-related accommodation request, the employer must provide accommodation unless the accommodation will create significant difficulty or expense to the employer’s operations. On the other hand, undue hardship in the context of religious accommodation is a hardship that will create more than a de minimus cost on the employer’s operation.

Even in light of the lesser “undue hardship” standard, the EEOC has ramped-up its pursuit of religious-based discrimination in the workplace, and the EEOC rarely accepts arguments that a dress code constitutes “business necessity” for an employer (i.e. an employer’s argument that it needs to convey an uniform image of all of its workers). Most notably, lawsuits and charges have been filed where workers have been penalized for particular religious grooming, or donning religious garb. Some examples include Muslim head scarves, Sikh turbans, yarmulkes, and the presence of religious tattoos. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the EEOC’s position in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., and concluded the employer engaged in religious-based discrimination against a Muslim employee. The employer raised unsubstantiated assertions that it need not accommodate the employee’s request to wear a headscarf on grounds that the employee’s use of a headscarf constituted an “undue hardship.” The employer maintained that use of the headscarf departed from the company’s “look policy” and “corporate brand.” As noted by the EEOC, the employee had the headscarf on when interviewed, and had worked with the headscarf on for four months before being terminated. The employer failed to present evidence to show its sales had dropped in that four month period of time.

However, for both disability and religious-based accommodation requests, “undue hardship” may be demonstrated if safety concerns are raised. As an example, an employer may ban a Muslim employee’s use of a head scarf in a job where the scarf could get caught in machinery.

Sometimes, the lack of understanding regarding a particular religion’s practices is at the root of discrimination. For example, in EEOC v. Fries Rest. Mgt., LLC, Case No. 12-03169 (Tex. Aug. 22, 2012), religious-based discrimination occurred where the manager of a Burger King restaurant fired a Christian Pentecostal female cashier on grounds that she would not wear the standard uniform (including pants). Instead, because of her religious beliefs, she insisted on wearing a skirt.

√ Conclusion

In the end, religious-based accommodation requests are fact-intensive, and must be handled on a case-by-case basis. To the extent that “undue hardship” is not present, you are obliged under federal law to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation, if requested, to persons who meet the essential eligibility requirements for the program or activity. And, you must accept the requester’s bona fide religious belief or practice “as is.” For complicated accommodation requests, including any requests that may conflict with other federal civil rights laws, you should consult with the EO leadership of your state or territory for guidance, or consult the civil rights office of your federal funding agency.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

The “Basis” of a Discrimination Complaint: What It Is and Why It’s Important by Seena Foster

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

A discrimination complaint is filed when someone feels that s/he has been unfairly or unjustly treated as compared to someone else. Sometimes, the person believes that a process or criteria has been inefficiently or inconsistently applied to him or her as compared to another person.

There may be any number of reasons for the alleged differing treatment, yet only certain reasons are prohibited by law. The reason for alleged differing treatment constitutes the complaint’s “basis” or, in the case of multiple reasons, the “bases” of discrimination.

Why is the “basis” of a discrimination complaint important to the Equal Opportunity (EO) professional? It is one of the critical factors used in determining whether a violation of applicable civil rights laws has been alleged. While it is true that any form of discriminatory conduct or preferential treatment is offensive and unfair, not all conduct is illegal.

Federally-funded programs and activities

Prohibited bases of discrimination in federally-funded programs and activities are established by statute. For example, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that race, color, and national origin are illegal bases of discrimination. Disability is another prohibited basis of discrimination pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age—any age.

While the foregoing statutes set forth prohibited bases of discrimination across the board in federally-funded programs and activities, there are certain statutes delineating additional prohibited bases of discrimination, which are applicable to specific types of programs and activities. For instance, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in federally-funded educational programs and activities. And, one of the most expansive civil rights laws applies to certain workforce development programs and activities. Notably, Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 prohibits discrimination on the previously-mentioned bases of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and gender. And, it contains the following additional prohibited bases of discrimination: religion, political affiliation or belief, citizenship, and WIOA-participant status.

To illustrate the concept of “basis” and its importance, we’ll look at a couple of examples. First, let’s assume that Michelle wants to enroll in a GED program at a nearby public college, which receives WIOA-related funding from the U.S. Department of Labor as well as financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. The admissions officer of the college does not permit Michelle to complete the enrollment form because Michelle has been pregnant five times in the past seven years. Michelle files a complaint. Here, Michelle has filed a complaint alleging gender-based discrimination; that is, Michelle alleges that she is subjected to discrimination (not allowed to enroll) because of her history of pregnancies and, since pregnancy is unique to women, this is an allegation of gender-based discrimination. Because the college operates its programs and activities using federal dollars, the delivery of these educational programs and activities is governed by Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination. And, gender-based discrimination at this college also is prohibited under WIOA Section 188. So, Michelle’s complaint alleges illegal discrimination.

Now, let’s turn to Joe, who alleges that he is being denied on-the-job-training through a WIOA-funded American Job Network center because he is homeless. If we look at the prohibited “bases” of discrimination under WIOA Section 188, we see that “homelessness” is not listed. Undoubtedly, discrimination against a person because s/he is homeless is offensive and unfair, but the WIOA EO professional does not have authority to investigate Joe’s complaint under WIOA Section 188 because his complaint does not allege a “basis” of discrimination prohibited by those laws.

If you are an EO professional for your agency, organization, or company, you must know the civil rights laws that apply to your federally-funded programs and activities. Review these laws to determine the prohibited “bases” of discrimination in the delivery of your programs and activities. If you receive a discrimination complaint, you will need to ensure that the alleged basis of discrimination is prohibited by one or more civil rights laws governing your programs and activities before you consider accepting the complaint for investigation.

In the workplace

If you are an EEO/AA/HR professional in the workplace, you also will need to know the federal, state, and local civil rights laws applicable to workplace discrimination. As with laws governing federally-funded programs and activities, civil rights laws governing the workplace will delineate certain prohibited “bases” of discrimination. These workplace “bases” include age (40 years of age and over), disability, equal compensation, genetic information, national origin, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), race, color, and religion.

As an example, 46-year-old Mario alleges he was transferred to a less desirable office location and, recently, he has been excluded from monthly management meetings as compared to a 28-year-old colleague who continues to attend the meetings and occupies a highly, sought-after office location in the company. Here, Mario has filed an age-based discrimination complaint, and you would have authority to investigate that complaint under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

On the other hand, Joan files a discrimination complaint alleging that her supervisor does not like her and gave her a poor performance review because she is vocal in her disagreement with the supervisor’s policies. This complaint does not allege any “basis” of discrimination prohibited by federal or state civil rights laws. Notably, “personality conflicts,” “policy differences,” or “disagreements” are not among the prohibited bases of discrimination in the workplace. As a result, you would not have authority to investigate Joan’s complaint.

Conclusion

As an EO professional, it will save you time to make a list of the prohibited “bases” of discrimination under the civil rights laws applicable to your federally-funded programs and activities. For the EEO/AA/HR professional, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of the civil rights laws applicable to your employment practices. This knowledge, in turn, will help you quickly assess whether a complaint alleges illegal discrimination. For complaints that allege discrimination on a prohibited basis, you must ensure all other jurisdictional requirements are met prior to accepting the complaint for investigation. For complaints that do not allege discrimination on a prohibited basis, you do not have jurisdiction to investigate the complaint under federal civil rights laws, but you may determine that issues raised in the complaint may be addressed informally (such as by taking steps to address customer service issues in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities), or through the non-discrimination grievance process in place at your agency, organization, or company for workplace-related complaints.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations. To that end, she offers on-demand webcasts, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, assistance developing procedures, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination. The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally-funded programs and activities. Her book, “Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination,” has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource. Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors. To learn more about Ms. Foster, and the services she has to offer, go to www.titleviconsulting.com.

Age Discrimination: What It Is and How to Avoid It (by Seena Foster)

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Age discrimination is prohibited by federal civil rights laws. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 requires nondiscrimination on the basis of any age in the delivery of federally-assisted services, aid, training, and benefits. And, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 bars discrimination against folks who are 40 years and older in employment practices.

In this article, we’ll cover the requirements of these laws, and set forth some specific steps you can take to ensure compliance.

√ In federally-assisted programs and activities.

In federally-assisted programs and activities, age discrimination is prohibited regardless of the age at issue. Federally-assisted programs and activities cover a wide variety of areas including, but not limited to, the following:

● workforce development, such as job counseling, job referral, unemployment insurance, on-the-job-training, and other programs and activities offered through the American Job Center network and Job Corps Centers;
● educational programs and activities offered at schools, colleges, and universities that receive federal dollars;
● public transportation systems;
● public housing;
● healthcare programs and activities funded with federal dollars;
● and many others.

Denying services, aid, training, or benefits in federally-assisted programs and activities because someone is “too old” or “too young” runs afoul of the Age Discrimination Act. That is, if you limit services, provide lesser services, provide segregated services, or deny services based on a person’s age, then you have engaged in age-based discrimination.

The only exception is when the federal funding agency designates dollars for a program geared to a particular age group. For example, Job Corps offers enrollment for its federally-assisted educational programs and activities to persons who are 16 to 24 years old.  Here, one of the essential eligibility requirements for participation in this federal program is age-related.

Absent specific age criteria set by the federal agency, as in our Job Corps example, age-based discrimination is prohibited in government programs. For example, let’s say you are operating a project management training program, which is partially funded with grant money received from the U.S. Department of Labor. Through this program, participants obtain specialized certification allowing them to bid on a wider variety of contracts issued in your locality.

Joan, a 36-year old, was denied entry into the program. She files a discrimination complaint alleging you only selected folks under 30 years of age. This constitutes an age-based discrimination complaint under the Age Discrimination Act.

Now, when conducting an investigation of this complaint, you’ll want to learn whether Joan met the “essential eligibility requirements” for the training program as well as who was selected and who was not, the bases of these decisions, and so on.

If you operate a government-funded program or activity to deliver aid, training, services, or benefits to the public, then focus on the following measures to ensure compliance with the Age Discrimination Act:

● Know the “essential eligibility requirements” for the program. Are there any age requirements? If not, then the Age Discrimination Act mandates age cannot be used to deny access to a program, or to offer lesser, segregated, or different services.
● Make sure each and every member of your staff working with a program, including your front line folks who greet the public as they come through the door, treats each person with respect, and does not segregate, exclude, limit, or deny access to a program or activity because of an individual’s age.
● Conduct training so that staff understands the Age Discrimination Act, i.e. what it is, where it applies, and what it means. Everyone needs to be on the same page—you cannot offer lesser services, segregated services, different services, or no services because someone is “too old” or “too young.”
● Monitor the program. Check census and other demographic data for your service population to make sure you are reaching your target populations, regardless of their ages. Check program data for any disconnects between the ages of folks who come through your doors and those who are actually served. And, finally, track your discrimination complaint log to pinpoint and troubleshoot problem areas in your systems of delivering aid, training, benefits, or services to the public.

√ In the workplace.

Unlike the operations of government programs, in the workplace, we are concerned with the treatment of people who are 40 years of age and over. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) stemmed from Congress’s concerns over stereotyping of older workers as being less efficient or less productive than their younger counterparts. Congress found, based on these stereotypes, older workers were treated less favorably.

The EEOC reports that 23 percent of all discrimination charges it received in 2012 included alleged violations of the ADEA, and the “most startling” component of these age-based discrimination complaints was that 64 percent of the complaints asserted discriminatory discharge of the worker. As a result, in 2012, the EEOC announced a new strategic enforcement plan targeting age-based discrimination in the employment context, which was approved by the Commission. One of its goals under this new strategy is to prevent age-based discrimination and harassment through increased litigation and targeted outreach.

At this juncture, it is worthwhile to take a brief sidestep and note that a variety of studies have come out in recent years demonstrating that older persons exhibit sharper minds in some areas, and have more stable emotions than their younger counterparts. For example, older air traffic controllers were studied by University of Illinois researchers, and found to exhibit expert navigation abilities as well as expert abilities coordinating multiple aircraft at the same time to avoid collisions. So, it is important to instill a workplace culture that does not negatively stereotype older workers.

Less favorable treatment in employment practices includes non-selection, non-promotion, issuing adverse performance appraisals, a hostile work environment, forced retirement, and termination. It can also include transfer to a less favorable position or office location, exclusion from meetings, and other less favorable privileges, terms, or conditions of employment.

If it is determined that less favorable employment policies and practices adversely affect folks 40 years of age and over, then prohibited age-based discrimination is demonstrated, unless the employer demonstrates that “reasonable factors other than age” are at the core of the less favorable employment policy or practice.  Notably, in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 176 (2009), the United States Supreme Court considered the complainant’s burden under the ADEA.  The plain language of the statute provides it “shall be unlawful for an employer . . . [t]o discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s age.”  Citing this language, the Supreme Court held an employee must show that, even if age is not the only cause for the adverse action, age must be the controlling factor in the adverse employment action; that is, the adverse employment action would not have happened “but-for” the employee’s age.

One example of application of the “but for” standard is found in the Eleventh Circuit’s 2013 opinion in Cobb v. City of Roswell, Georgia.  The court noted, in order to meet this burden, the employee initially must demonstrate a prima facie case that s/he was:  (1) at least 40 years old; (2) subjected to an adverse employment action; (3) replaced by a younger person; and (4) qualified for the job at issue.  The court stated an employer’s expressed need for “fresh” leadership, standing alone, will not carry the day in establishing age discrimination; rather, there must be a basis in the record to demonstrate that “fresh” meant “young” or “younger.”  If a prima facie case is made, then the burden shifts to the employer to present legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its conduct.  And, finally, the employee is afforded the opportunity to demonstrate that the employer’s proffered reasons are mere pretext, or are not true.  Here, the Cobb court held the employee “must meet each proffered reason head on and rebut it, and he cannot succeed by simply disputing the wisdom of the employer’s proffered reasons.”

Keep in mind, it is not illegal under the ADEA to favor an older worker over a younger worker, even if both employees are over 40 years of age. Rather, as stated earlier, the ADEA was enacted to protect older workers against discrimination in favor of younger workers.

The ADEA applies to your workplace as well as to apprenticeship programs, job notices and advertisements, and pre-employment inquiries. While there is no specific prohibition to asking the age, the date of birth, or the date of high school graduation of an applicant for employment, such pre-employment questions will be closely scrutinized in any discrimination complaint investigation to determine whether the information was obtained for a lawful purpose.

There is no upper age limit under the ADEA, which means that employers must be careful when imposing mandatory retirement policies. Specifically, if an employer seeks to impose mandatory age retirement, it must demonstrate that such a requirement constitutes a bona fide occupational requirement for the position.

And, sometimes, job requirements will have a disproportionately adverse impact on folks who are 40 years of age and over. For example, a job may require consistent lifting of 50 pounds during the workday and this, in turn, may disproportionately affect some older workers. Such job requirements are permissible so long as they relate to the essential functions of the job.

For purposes of illustration, we’ll use two court opinions to help us better understand the concept of age-based hostile work environment—when it is established and when it is not. Keep in mind, that discrimination complaints are very fact intensive. There are very few bright line rules, and these complaints are resolved on a case-by-case basis.

The two cases that we are going to look at are the 2011 New Jersey Supreme Court opinion, Saffros v. Anaya, Inc., where age discrimination was established, and the 2012 Third Circuit opinion of Vashinder v. Sec’y. Dep’t. of Veterans Affairs, where age discrimination was not established.

The plaintiffs in each of these cases alleged that derogatory age-related remarks were directed at them in the workplace. The Vashinder court found evidence of one “stray remark” about the plaintiff’s age, but concluded that this did not rise to a “severe and pervasive” level so as to create an age-based hostile work environment.

In Saffros, on the other hand, the court found evidence that company managers and supervisors continually made degrading age-related comments directed at, or about, older workers, including the plaintiff. Indeed, the court found that these comments were “severe and pervasive” enough to create a hostile work environment based on age, which constituted age-based discrimination.

So, where the Vasbinder court concluded a stray age-related remark did not rise to the level of hostile work environment, the Saffros court found a culture of the company’s leadership making derogatory age-based remarks was sufficient to create a hostile work environment in violation of the ADEA.

Next, in Vasbinder, the plaintiff, who was over 40 years of age, was demoted from Boiler Plant Operator Leader to Maintenance Worker. Although the plaintiff asserted that the demotion stemmed from the fact that he was over 40 years of age, the court found sufficient evidence presented by the employer to demonstrate that he was demoted because he was caught sleeping during his shift. Here, the court noted, “Sleeping while responsible for the boiler plant was a serious offense because of the potential consequences of an equipment malfunction.” Although the plaintiff challenged the employer’s investigation of a report that he was sleeping on duty, the court held that the employer followed its procedures, investigated the report, and took disciplinary action.

On the other hand, in Saffros, the court cited to multiple factors demonstrating age-based discrimination had occurred against employees aged 40 years and older. The court cited to one employee over 40 years of age, who had a history of exceptional work performance, but was terminated under a Forced Management Plan. The employer argued that the plan served a purpose of eliminating positions “to create cost savings.” The plaintiff requested a transfer to another geographical location with the company, but this was denied on the basis that there was “no money for moving.” It was problematic to the court, however, when the company turned around and hired a 33 year old to fill the same position as was held by the terminated plaintiff and the moving costs for the new hire were paid by the company. Based on the facts before it, the court concluded that age-based discrimination was established.

In the end, it is important to ensure that your employment practices comply with the ADEA. Some suggestions include:

● Focus on the bona fide occupational requirements and essential duties of a job, not the age of the applicant or employee.
● Avoid gathering age-related information, such as date of birth, date of graduation from high school, and the like, during the pre-employment phase of the hiring process.
● Do not include age preferences in job notices and advertisements.
● While stray age-related remarks in the workplace may not rise to the level of “severe and pervasive” conduct to create a hostile work environment, any such remarks should be discouraged. And, managers and supervisors must refrain from making such remarks, encouraging others to make them, or ignoring complaints by subordinates regarding such remarks. There is a point at which stray remarks evolve into more intense conduct that violates federal civil rights laws.
● Reductions in force and other “cost saving” measures implemented by an employer should not have a disproportionate affect on older workers. It will be particularly problematic for your organization if terminated older workers are replaced with younger ones.
● Monitor what is happening on the ground. Keep your eyes and ears open. Acts of discrimination may start small, but they can quickly build and create a drain on company resources to correct. It is best to encourage a respectful work environment, top to bottom, from the start.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, Principal of Title VI Consulting, assists administrators and equal opportunity professionals understand the civil rights laws that apply to their federally-assisted programs and activities. Her background includes 24 years as Senior Legal Advisor to the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, where she drafted decisions and orders and developed resources and aids promoting consistency and efficiency in several national adjudication programs. In 2012, Ms. Foster received the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Exceptional Achievement Award “for outstanding leadership and legal guidance in helping the Office of Administrative Law Judges address the major changes in law” stemming from enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Ms. Foster also served on detail as a Senior Policy Analyst to the Labor Department’s Civil Rights Center (CRC) and, in 2003, she led a team of specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews, prepared materials for limited English proficiency compliance reviews, prepared determinations issued by Director Annabelle Lockhart resolving numerous discrimination complaints, and presented at the CRC/NASWA national equal opportunity forum on the Workforce Investment Act Section 188 Disability Checklist. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award for her work at the CRC, and, on request by the CRC, Ms. Foster continued to serve as a workshop presenter at subsequent CRC/NASWA equal opportunity conferences conducting workshops on conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing determinations, and addressing harassment and hostile environment complaints in educational programs and activities.

Currently, Ms. Foster offers consultation services, assists in the development of policies and procedures, and conducts onsite civil rights training for state and local governments, focusing on the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities in the areas of workforce development and education. Her award-winning book, Civil Rights Investigations under the Workforce Investment Act and other Title VI-Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, and her highly popular on-demand webcasts covering compliance and discrimination complaints investigations have been applauded by equal opportunity and compliance professionals for their clarity and content. Ms. Foster has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School, and she carries certification in federal workplace mediation from the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. Ms. Foster also is a member of the Human Rights and Discrimination Law committees of the International Bar Association.

Library Essentials for Equal Opportunity Professionals

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

The responsibility of investigating and deciding discrimination complaints generally lies with equal opportunity (EO) professionals.  Discrimination complaints may arise in the workplace, or in the delivery of federally-funded and federally-assisted programs and activities.  Indeed, with regard to the delivery of federally-assisted aid, training, services, or benefits, addressing discrimination complaints is one of the key responsibilities of the EO professional at the agency, service provider, vender, or operator.  EO professionals have a variety of titles, i.e. the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) EO Officer, Title VI Coordinator, ADA Coordinator, Title IX Coordinator, and so on.

This paper directs EO professionals in federally-assisted programs and activities to some important issues that arise in discrimination complaint investigations.  Developing policies and procedures addressing these issues in advance of receiving a discrimination complaint will yield significant time savings down the road.

√       Where do you fit in the overall process?

Make sure you know the source(s) of potential discrimination complaints, which may be filed with you.  For federally-assisted programs, beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of the aid, training, benefits, and services you offer may file discrimination complaints.  For that reason, you’ll need to know what federally-assisted services, aid, training, and benefits your agency, organization, or company offers.

Is there a Web site where complaint forms and other information may be found?  Once you render a decision on a complaint, and one of the parties disagrees with your decision, what are the party’s rights?

√       How to you handle issues of representation?

What are the policies and procedures related to representation of a party to a discrimination complaint?  Is a lay representative or attorney representative allowed?  If so, at what point in the process may the representative enter an appearance?  How much involvement may the representative have with non-party witnesses?  What do you do if a complainant asks for legal representation?  For example, do you have contact information for entities like the local bar association or legal aid services available?

√       How do you process a discrimination complaint involving a minor?

This issue most often arises in the context of federally-assisted educational, apprenticeship, and/or training programs involving high school age or early college age students.  For example, in a Job Corps program, discrimination complaints may arise between a teacher or school official and a minor student, between two students, or any number of other variations.  In your jurisdiction, what is the age of a minor?  Can a minor file a discrimination complaint, or must a parent or legal guardian sign the complaint also?  How do you handle confidentiality and privacy of the minor?  How do you handle witnesses who are minors? What happens to the complaint if a parent or guardian will not sign with the minor?

√       How do you process anonymous complaints?

Anonymous complaints present special concerns to the EO professional.  Possibly the complainant is afraid of retaliation, and seeks to protect his/her identity.  On the other hand, a complainant may harbor a grudge against the respondent, and seek to harass the respondent by invoking a discrimination complaint investigation.  Either way, you should know the policies and procedures of your agency, company, or organization for handling these complaints.  Do you proceed with the investigation, or do you conduct monitoring or a compliance review?

√       What if a complaint should be directed to another agency?

When you receive a complaint, but find another agency or entity has jurisdiction to investigate it (such as the EEOC), what is the procedure for referring the complaint?  Will you (1) forward the complaint directly to the other entity and notify the complainant, (2) return the complaint to the complainant with instructions to file with another entity, or (3) handle the complaint another way?

√       How do you handle issues of privacy and confidentiality?

We covered these issues in conjunction with handling complaints involving minors, but issues of privacy and confidentiality are present in every discrimination complaint investigation.  What are the policies pertaining to privacy and confidentiality?  Who has access to the investigative file?  If you get a request for documents from the file from a non-party, what do you do?  If a party wants copies of all witness statements, do you provide those?  How do you handle a complainant’s medical information that may be the investigative file?  If a party or non-party wants your investigative notes, do you provide those?  If you get advice from your EO leadership or legal staff and a party or non-party requests that information, do you provide it?  What do you do with personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the like? And, finally, what are your policies and procedures for collecting, using, storing, and disclosing medical information?

√       What if the complainant dies or cannot be located?

You receive a discrimination complaint, and then learn the complainant died, or you cannot make contact with the complainant.  What do you do with the complaint?  Does it make a difference if the complainant filed the complaint alone, or as part of a class action?

√       How do you handle a complainant’s request to withdraw a complaint?

If a complainant seeks to withdraw his or her discrimination complaint, what do you do?  What are the complainant’s rights should s/he choose to re-file the complaint?

√       What are your procedures for reducing witness statements to writing?

Once you have completed interviews of the parties to a complaint as well as any witnesses, what is the procedure for reducing the statements of the parties and witnesses to writing?  Who writes the statements?  Do the statements need to be signed?  Must they be notarized?  What if an interviewee is limited English proficient, or has a disability and needs auxiliary aids and services during the discrimination complaint investigation process?

√       What is the policy on harassment and is it publicized?

You must understand the harassment policies of your agency, company, or organization.  Make sure the policies are well-known at all levels or your agency, organization, or company, and are well-known to the members of the public who come to you for aid, services, training, or benefits.  Conduct periodic training to minimize the potential for the filing of a harassment-based discrimination complaint.  Convey a “no tolerance” position on the subject.  The more comprehensive and publicized your harassment policies are, the less likely you will face this type of complaint.

Keep in mind that engaging in harassment or hostile environment on any prohibited basis (i.e. race, color, national origin, and so on), not just sexual harassment, constitutes discrimination in violation of federal civil rights laws.

√       What are your policies for handling accommodation and modification requests?

Knowing the policies for handling disability-based and religious-based requests for accommodation or modification is central to effectively and successfully resolving these issues.  Staff must be trained regularly on these policies, and how to implement them from the moment a beneficiary or potential beneficiary makes that initial request.  Reasonable accommodation and modification processes require engaging in a highly interactive dialogue where both sides explore possible accommodations or modifications. Having a well-trained staff goes far in alleviating failure to accommodate complaints.

√       How do you serve persons who are limited English proficient (LEP)?

Our communities benefit from the skills, knowledge, and experiences of increasingly diverse peoples, some of whom are not fluent in English.  In federally-assisted programs and activities, we must afford LEP persons meaningful access to all aid, training, benefits, or services for which they meet the essential eligibility requirements.

What are the procedures you have in place for serving LEP persons in your community?  What if you receive an LEP person who does not speak any of the languages spoken by a majority of the population in your community?  What are the resources available to you at the federal, state, and local levels for assisting LEP persons?  Is your staff trained to serve LEP persons from the moment they come through your doors?

√       What are the policies for using mediation to resolve disputes?

Mediation can be useful in resolving discrimination complaints, particularly when it occurs early in the process.  Mediation is an integral component of resolving workplace discrimination complaints.  And, often, issues involving denial of access to aid, training, benefits, or services in federally-assisted programs and activities are suitable for mediation.  Do you have policies and procedures in place for use of mediation?  What resources are available to you (such as a list of available mediators)?

√       Are there instances where you will expedite consideration of  a complaint?

What are your policies and procedures for expedited handling of a discrimination complaint?  For example, if a complainant alleges that s/he was retaliated against because of a prior complaint filed, is there a policy to give the retaliation complaint expedited treatment?

√       Is the complainant required to exhaust administrative remedies?

Do you have policies and procedures in place related to exhaustion of remedies?  If so, what are the types of complaints covered by these policies and procedures?  For example, before you accept a discrimination complaint pertaining to the denial of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, will you require that the complainant exhaust the UI appeals process?

√       What are the policies for audio and/or video recordings of interviews?

During your interviews of witnesses, you may seek to record the interviews by means of audio and/or video equipment.  Are recorded interviews permissible or prohibited in your state or locality?  Do you need permission from the interviewee?  Will you summarize the interview in a written statement?  What procedure will you follow to allow the interviewee to review any written statement for purposes of ensuring accuracy and completeness?  Does the interviewee need to sign the statement?

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Partner of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations.  To that end, she offers one hour webinars, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, assistance developing policies and procedures, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination.  The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally-funded and federally-assisted programs and activities.  Her book, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource.   Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors.  You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.

The Importance of “The Script” by Seena Foster

Monday, June 1st, 2015

In this article, we look at the importance of having sound policies and procedures in place for ensuring the nondiscriminatory delivery of aid, training, benefits, and services to the public and the importance of sticking to these policies and procedures. For purposes here, we will call the policies and procedures, the “script.”

Successful discrimination complaints stem from one of three problems: (1) no script; (2) a bad script; or (3) deviation from a good script.

Let’s start with “no script.” No script means that you do not have any policies or procedures in place for handling a particular situation. In these circumstances, too much discretion is left with staff members and this, in turn, leads to inconsistent (and perhaps discriminatory) handling of issues. For example, Jane Doe comes to an American Job Network Center seeking assistance with her resume. She is deaf and requests the assistance of a sign-language interpreter. Without policies and procedures in place for handling this request, how does a staff member know what to do? Indeed, there may be disagreement among staff regarding a proper response to the request. In the meantime, time is ticking and Ms. Doe becomes increasingly frustrated with her lack of access to your services and files a complaint with you. The importance of having a script cannot be overstated.

Next, we’ll move to the bad script. Here, you have policies and procedures in place, but they are either incomplete, or result in a disparate impact on a class of beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. One example of a bad script is in the area of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Mr. Sanchez, whose native language is Spanish, comes to your American Job Network Center seeking to apply for UI benefits. Your policies and procedures provide that you hand him a packet of forms. This is the same packet of forms you hand to anyone seeking UI benefits. The forms are written in English. Mr. Sanchez cannot understand the forms because he is limited English proficient (LEP). On its face, you have a neutral policy and procedure in place for your staff to follow–everyone seeking UI benefits gets the same set of forms. However, the policy has a disparate impact on LEP persons like Mr. Sanchez. Your script does not address this situation and Mr. Sanchez is effectively denied access to apply for the UI benefits.

Finally, let’s look at the good script that is not followed. In this scenario, you have policies and procedures in place that are sound, but staff is not following them. Deviation from established policies and procedures may be intentional or unintentional, but the result is the same—the process is left open to discriminatory treatment of beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. Sometimes, policies and procedures are not followed because staff is simply unaware that they exist or they do not know how to properly implement them. This is generally the product of inadequate training. Other times, the staff member will be aware of the script, but chooses to deviate from it. This, too, presents problems.

For example, Mr. Doe serves as an employment referral counselor at an American Job Network Center. Widget Manufacturing Company states that it would like referral of five applicants to fill an accountant position. The company specifies that a bachelor’s degree is required along with one year of relevant experience. The script provides that Mr. Doe is to refer only those applicants who meet an employer’s stated requirements.

Mr. Doe has four applicants that he refers, and these applicants meet the company’s stated requirements. However, Mr. Doe also refers a fifth applicant, who has the bachelor’s degree with only six months of relevant experience. Mr. Doe explains that he referred the fifth applicant because he has worked with the applicant for several months and he knows what a “great person” the applicant is. You receive a discrimination complaint from a non-referred applicant who alleges he had the same qualifications as the fifth referred applicant (a bachelor’s degree and six months of experience).

In this example, Mr. Doe had “good intentions” when referring the fifth applicant who did not meet the company’s stated requirements, but he exposed the Center to a discrimination complaint because he deviated from the script.

Thus, as the Equal Opportunity professional for your agency, company, or organization, you should conduct periodic reviews of the policies and procedures for your federally-funded programs and activities, tweak them as needed to correct problems, and ensure staff is trained on the policies and procedures as well as the importance of adhering to them.

About Seena Foster.

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her Web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of American Job Network centers (formerly One Stop Career Centers), and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” Ms. Foster obtained “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.