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

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

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.

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

Friday, June 15th, 2018

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.

Harassment and Hostile Environment: Understanding the Basics by Seena Foster

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

If you are the Equal Opportunity (EO) professional charged with ensuring nondiscrimination in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities, or you serve as the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Human Resources (EEO/AA/HR) professional charged with ensuring nondiscrimination in the workplace, you must have a working knowledge of “harassment” and “hostile environment.”

√ Two categories of harassment-related complaints.

Let’s start with an understanding that complaints of harassment-related discrimination fall into one of two categories: (1) quid pro quo harassment; or (2) hostile environment harassment.

Whether a complaint involves allegations of quid pro quo harassment or hostile environment, the conduct must be “unwelcome.” And, who defines whether conduct is “unwelcome”? Harassment is defined “through the eyes of the beholder”; namely, the person subjected to the harassing conduct defines whether the conduct is offensive and unwelcome.

√ Harassment is discrimination.

“Harassment” and “hostile environment” constitute forms of discrimination, regardless of whether the “harassment” or “hostile environment” occurs in federally-funded programs and activities, or in the workplace.

When we hear the word “harassment,” many of us first think of “sexual” harassment. To be sure, harassment on the basis of “sex” is a form of sex discrimination that is barred by federal law in the workplace, and in the delivery of federally-funded services, aid, training, and benefits.

That being said, it is equally important to keep in mind that harassment or hostile environment may occur on any prohibited basis of discrimination, including race, national origin, color, disability, age, and others. For example, you may see a complaint of race-based hostile environment, or a religion-based quid pro quo harassment complaint.

√ Quid pro quo harassment defined.

In the simplest of terms, quid pro quo harassment takes the form of bartering—“you give me this, and I’ll give you that.” A workplace example occurs where Jane, a supervisor, offers her assistant, Jason, a bonus in exchange for sexual favors. Jane has engaged in prohibited quid pro quo sexual harassment. Notably, Jane’s decision-making regarding whether to give Jason a bonus should be based on bona fide work-related criteria, not through bartering to get Jason to have sex with her.

Similarly, an example in the arena of federally-funded programs and activities is where Scott, the employment-referral counselor at a job bank, refuses to refer Khalid to available security guard positions unless Khalid renounces his Islamic faith. Here, Scott has engaged in quid pro quo religious-based harassment—Khalid must give up his Islamic faith in exchange for referral to the security guard positions. This discrimination is illegal because Scott is obligated to base his decision to refer Khalid to security guard positions on whether Khalid meets the essential eligibility requirements for the referral, not Khalid’s religious beliefs or practices.

√ “Hostile environment” defined.

Turning to “hostile environment,” this type of discrimination does not involve the bartering of “you give me this and I’ll give you that.” Rather, a hostile environment is created where one person, or a group of people, engages in offensive conduct that is “so severe and pervasive” that it adversely alters another person’s workplace environment, or the person’s enjoyment of, and participation in, federally-funded programs and activities.

In determining whether conduct is “severe and pervasive,” the following factors should be considered: (1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s job performance, or with a person’s participation in, or enjoyment of, a federally-funded program or activity.

An example of “hostile environment” in the workplace is where Kristen works as a welder alongside eight co-workers, all of whom are men. Two of these co-workers are constantly telling sexist jokes, posting naked photos of women in the work area, and whistling at Kristen when she is working. Kristen is offended by the conduct, and she lets her co-workers know that it is unwelcome. When the conduct does not stop, Kristen files a complaint. Kristen’s complaint involves allegations of a “hostile sexual environment,” which adversely altered her working conditions.

In federally-funded programs and activities, an example of hostile environment occurs where a group of students at a public school posts derogatory remarks on Facebook about Josh, a student with a mobility disability. Moreover, they call him “crippled” and “stupid” in the hallways of the school, and deliberately place obstacles in front of his power chair. Josh files a disability-based hostile environment complaint. Here, the offending group of students created a “disability-based hostile environment” that, in turn, adversely altered Josh’s ability to enjoy, and participate in, the educational programs and activities offered at the school.

√ Retaliatory “hostile environment” is against the law.

Whether in the workplace, or in federally-funded programs and activities, creating a “hostile environment” against an individual in retaliation for filing an EEO complaint, or in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint in a federally-funded program, also is prohibited. Every circuit court addressing this issue recognizes these complaints of “retaliatory hostile environment.”

If a person files a discrimination complaint, regardless of whether the complaint is ultimately successful or not, and then the person experiences “severe and pervasive” harassment from any member of your organization’s staff, your organization and the responsible staff members will be held liable. See Clegg v. Ark. Dep’t. of Corr., 496 F.3d 922 (8th Cir. 2007); Jordan v. City of Cleveland, 464 F.3d 584 (6th Cir. 2006); Jensen v. Potter, 435 F.3d 444 (3rd Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006); Hussain v. Nicholson, 435 F.3d 359 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Noviello v. City of Boston, 398 F.3d 76 (1st Cir. 2005); Von Gunten v. Maryland, 243 F.3d 858 (4th Cir. 2001), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N., 548 U.S. 53; Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234 (9th Cir. 2000); Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t. of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426 (2nd Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N., 548 U.S. 53; Gunnell v. Utah Valley State Coll., 152 F.3d 1253 (10th Cir. 1998); Knox v. Indiana, 93 F.3d 1327 (7th Cir. 1996).

For example, in Gowski v. James Peake, MD (Sec’y., Dept. of Veterans Affairs, et al), 682 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2012), the circuit court noted, after two hospital physician-employees filed EEO complaints of gender-based and religious-based discrimination, they were subjected to “severe and pervasive” retaliation at work, including the spread of demeaning rumors about the physicians by management that damaged their professional reputations, denial of hospital privileges to the physicians that could adversely affect their certifications, excluding the physicians from participating in work-related functions, and other similar acts. The court found, taken as a whole, this conduct created a retaliatory hostile environment, and damages were awarded against the hospital.

√ Obligations of EO and EEO professionals.

Thus, whether you work as an EO professional in federally-funded programs and activities, or as an EEO/AA/HR professional handling workplace discrimination, you must be familiar with the policies and procedures of your agency or organization pertaining to harassment and hostile environment. If no policies or procedures are in place, you must ensure that they are developed and published. Management and employees in your workplace, as well as beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of your federally-funded programs and activities must have notice of these policies and procedures.

If you receive a discrimination complaint based on harassment or hostile environment, you are required to take action. These complaints are fact-intensive and there may be more than one appropriate response to a particular complaint of harassment. Although only hindsight offers perfect clarity of what worked and what did not, doing nothing is never acceptable.

About the author.

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.” 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 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.

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

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

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.

Elements of an Inclusive Workforce Development System

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

The following excerpt is from remarks delivered by Ms. Foster at a national Equal Opportunity Conference in Washington, DC:

It is a privilege for me to be here today, and this has been such an impressive line-up of civil rights experts.

The importance of you and the equal opportunity work you perform in the field of workforce development at this pivotal time in our country’s history cannot be overstated. If we hope to have a stronger, more stable economy at the national level, it must start with you at the local level.

Underlying everything we do in the field of equal opportunity is the concept that we don’t leave segments of our population behind to dead end. We want to help folks in our communities get jobs, or get better jobs. We want to find a way for all members of our community to engage and be productive, contributing citizens.

The vast majority of us and vast majority of the citizens in our communities are not independently wealthy. So, if we aren’t working, we aren’t earning money. And, if we aren’t earning money, we aren’t able to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, or clothes on our backs. And, where does that lead? Logically, it leads to increased demand on our safety net programs—homeless shelters or public housing, food stamps, free medical care, the list goes on.

No one has ever been able to explain to me how a stronger, more stable economy is built on leaving segments of a community behind in our workforce development programs whether it is women, minorities, limited English proficient persons, persons with disabilities, folks of a certain age, Veterans, or folks of certain religious beliefs.

Getting systems in place to move all of our populations forward, and training staff on the use of these systems, is where we need to spend a little time and thought as equal opportunity professionals. Not every customer is going to move along the same track, or at the same pace. The point is to get them moving as opposed to setting them off to the side.

As you work to develop inclusive workforce development systems, keep in mind these four core elements—communication, access, integration, and individualized treatment—must be front and center in your planning. Every speaker here today has addressed one or more of these elements. And, I am going to briefly describe each of these elements, and why they are important.

Communication

Communication takes two forms. First, is the one most of us think of immediately; that is, being able to understand what a customer is saying, and ensuring the customer understands us. So, if establishing that baseline communication with our customer means using a sign language interpreter, captioning, or a language line, than that is what needs to happen.

Now, the next level of communication involves “notice.” Notice to the public of what programs we have to offer, notice about how to access our programs, and notice that we operate these programs in compliance with the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity mandates of WIOA Section 188. Providing notice includes prominently displaying that “Equal Opportunity Is the Law” notice wherever we do business, and publishing our discrimination complaint procedures and forms.

On the other end of things, notice also includes making sure employers, to the extent they use screening tools like e-Verify or criminal background checks, give notice of any disqualifying adverse information to the potential applicant and allow the applicant an opportunity to explain or dispute it.

So, an inclusive workforce development program means we are able to communicate with our customers, and we convey important notices to them about their rights and our obligations under the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions of WIOA Section 188.

Access

Access is another core element of an inclusive program. Access means folks have access to apply for, or participate in, our programs or activities. And, denial of access can take a variety of shapes.

One example is holding a training course on the first floor of a building, but folks have to get up the two steps at the entrance to the building. Without a ramp, some folks with mobility disabilities, who qualify to take this course, would be denied access to participate.

Another example of denial of access is one that I came across when I visited a particular locality to conduct training. The job referral counselor at the center would not even consider women for construction-related training or apprenticeship programs in welding, carpentry, masonry, and so on. Here, women who met the essential eligibility requirements for such training were denied access to even to apply for these programs.

And, access is a rising issue as we move forward with more internet-based application and enrollment processes. We are at the very beginning of what I describe as the incoming technology tsunami. The harnessing and use of various technologies on the market will undoubtedly strengthen many aspects of our workforce development programs and activities by building in efficiencies at a greater savings of staffing and money resources.

We’ve already seen the use of technology increase exponentially in the processing of unemployment insurance claims. And, the use of technology is growing in other areas such as computerized matching of a customer’s skills to available jobs in the market.

While these advances work for the vast majority of our populations, certain segments of our community’s population will be left behind. Persons with certain disabilities, and folks who are not able to read or write English very well could be denied access to programs for which they would otherwise be qualified.

I’ve heard some folks ask, why should we build systems around the exceptions? These folks need to come into the 21st Century.

Keep in mind, there is room in this country for all of us. Not every job out there requires an IT background, or access to the Internet. Not every job requires the ability to read, write, or speak English. Landscapers, cleaners, movers, certain construction trades, and caregivers are some examples of occupations that may not require IT savvy, access to the internet, or the ability to speak or understand English.

And, you’ve got some folks who are IT-savvy and understand English but, for example, they have a disability and need some type of auxiliary aid or service to navigate the internet application process.

The key here is to figure out what safety valves can be put in place in your particular community to ensure these populations aren’t left out. And, I think this is an excellent opportunity for the kinds of civil rights experts we’ve heard from today to establish a working group that includes folks like you and other interested stakeholders to work collaboratively to come up with some “best practices,” develop low or no cost resources, and generate ideas for resource-sharing and partnerships in our communities, to get these safety valves in place.

Integration

Beyond communication and access, we have the element of integration.

Decades ago, “Separate but Equal” was considered an acceptable way of doing business—whites could go to certain schools, blacks could go to other schools. Wisdom prevailed and we learned as a society that it is not healthy to divide ourselves by the color of our skin. Each of us has value beyond these surface qualities.

Unfortunately, the “Separate but Equal” concept is still with us, but it has morphed into other areas.

I’ll give you an example.

Too often, our workforce development programs are designed to channel persons with disabilities into separate tracks out of the gate. Regardless of the disability, or what the customer would like to do, we channel the customer to a single person at the center, or to rehabilitative services.

Earlier this year, I was asked to conduct training at a particular locality and visited one of its centers to gather a better understanding of how that locality operated its workforce development programs. The center had four job referral counselors. However, any person with a disability, regardless of the disability, would be referred to the one counselor designated as the “disability job referral counselor.” And, if that counselor was in a meeting, out of the office, or otherwise unavailable, the person with a disability had to make an appointment to come back another day.

On this particular day, a customer who was deaf came in and handed the greeter a resume and a card asking for sign language interpreter services so he could meet with a job referral counselor.

The “disability job referral counselor” at the center was out on vacation, one other counselor had a customer in her office, and two counselors were available.

At first, the center manager was going to ask the gentleman to reschedule a time the following week when the disability job referral counselor returned from vacation.

But, after a little discussion, the center manager called for a sign language interpreter who would arrive in the next 30 to 40 minutes. And, the manager had one of the available counselors at the center call the relay line in the meantime to get the process started.

As an aside, I’ll tell you that the customer on this particular day was a CPA and had advanced degrees in accounting as well as executive level accounting experience for a large company. He had relocated because of his wife’s change of jobs, and wanted assistance finding a job in his new community.

Here, the center provided assistance to him on the day he came, and did not ask that he make an appointment to come back in one or two weeks when the “disability job referral counselor” returned from vacation.

So, offering integrated services means here that each counselor should be able to take each customer in order, without regard to whether the person has a disability, is limited English proficient, is a Veteran, is a woman, and so on.

Individualized treatment

Finally, in addition to communication, access, and integration, our systems need to be designed provide individualized treatment.

The purpose of our workforce development programs is to move folks from unemployment to employment, or to transition folks from certain jobs to better jobs.

If someone comes to one of your centers directly, or comes through the unemployment insurance portal, individualized treatment requires that we start with that individual’s baseline.

What does this mean? It means we take an individual as we find him or her and work from there. We ask the customer, what skills, education, interests, and talents do you bring to the table?

At the other end of the spectrum, we take a look around to see what jobs are in our community and the skills and education required for those jobs. If we find a match, we make a referral.

If we don’t find a match, we look to bridge the gap. The first step across the bridge for some customers may be the local community college to obtain a certification, diploma, or degree. For others, the first step may be attending English as a Second Language classes.

But, keep in mind that not everyone is cut out for these types of educational pursuits. We don’t have to force all of our customers into the school or college pipeline for workforce development.

We’ve got other pipelines. Apprenticeships to learn a trade, on-the-job training, and licensing programs are some examples.

Keep in mind, folks don’t come to us out of nowhere—they have histories, they have skills, they have interests. Our job is to figure out what they bring to the table in terms of skills, education, and experience, and what workforce development pipelines would be suitable given their background and interests. And, if figuring out what someone brings to the table requires the use of a language line, captioning, or sign language interpreter services, then make sure that happens.

At the end of the day, our systems should be inclusive.

Inclusive systems will afford women access to opportunities in nontraditional fields. Inclusive systems mean we won’t skip over persons with disabilities, or persons who are limited English proficient, because we don’t know what to do with them, or because it takes a little extra time to get a sign language interpreter or connect to the language line.

Inclusive systems mean we’ll encourage employers focus first and foremost on an applicant’s qualifications, push the use of screening tools like criminal background checks and e-Verify, for example, as far back in the process as possible. And, we’ll stress the importance of employers giving an applicant the opportunity to explain, challenge, or clear-up any adverse results that surface through the use of these screening tools.

In the delivery of inclusive workforce development activities and programs, the elements of communication, access, integration, and individualized treatment are present.

From unemployment insurance to on-the-job training to resume writing assistance to job referrals to referrals for an apprenticeship program to counseling and many others, the key is to ensure all members of our population know about the programs, and have access to the programs. Make sure we are serving folks in as integrated a setting as possible, not placing folks off to the side because we don’t know what to do with them. And, we give folks individualized treatment to ensure their success.

At the end of the day, if a customer meets the essential eligibility requirements for a workforce development program or activity, then the customer must be allowed to enroll, apply, and participate.

Thank you for your time, and I wish you every success in the important work you do.

Discrimination Complaint Investigations: Focus on Controlling the Process, Not the Parties by Seena Foster

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

When a discrimination complaint is filed in a government program, or in the workplace, there are concerns regarding confidentiality, retaliation, and the threat of harm to public or professional reputations. The advent of electronic mail and a myriad of social media sites compound the complexity of these concerns. The bottom line is, you will not be able to control the actions of the parties to a discrimination complaint but, as an investigator, you can control your own actions as well as the investigative process. In this paper, we’ll discuss when and to whom you give notice of a discrimination complaint and how to maintain control over the investigative process.

For federally funded programs or activities, a discrimination complaint is filed by a Charging Party alleging denial of benefits, services, aid, or training by the Respondent on a prohibited basis (i.e. race, color, national origin, age, gender, disability, and so on). The Charging Party (CP) is a beneficiary, or potential beneficiary, of a federally funded program. The Respondents are the (1) agency or other entity operating the program, and (2) the employee acting on behalf of the agency or entity.

One example of discrimination in a government program is where a college professor gives one of his students a higher grade in exchange for sex. The student (CP) files a quid pro quo sexual harassment complaint against the college and its professor (Respondents). Another example is where the unemployment insurance counselor at a one stop career center refuses to assist persons with hearing impairments because it takes too much time. Here, the persons with hearing impairments (CPs) file a disability-based discrimination complaint against the unemployment insurance counselor and the one stop career center (Respondents).

An example of a workplace discrimination complaint is where a supervisor gives a black subordinate an adverse performance appraisal. The employee (Complainant) would file a color-based discrimination complaint against the supervisor (Respondent).

√ Determining jurisdiction

The first step for any investigator when s/he receives a discrimination complaint is determining jurisdiction. Is there authority to investigate a particular complaint? Here, the investigator is looking at things such as timeliness, apparent merit, protected class characteristics, and so on.

At this initial stage, the investigator is not determining whether the allegations are true; rather, s/he is merely figuring out whether the complaint meets certain basic jurisdictional requirements. Most often, this stage of the investigation involves communicating only with the CP or Complainant. Because the complaint has not officially been accepted for investigation, there is no need to notify the named Respondents of the complaint at this time.

Moreover, generally, if the investigator finds that s/he is without jurisdiction to investigate a complaint (i.e. it is untimely, lacks apparent merit, and the like), then written notice of that fact must be provided to the CP or Complainant, but it may not be necessary to provide the named Respondents with such notice. Check with the civil rights office of your federal funding agency for requirements applicable to you.

√ Accepting the complaint

If the investigator concludes that s/he has jurisdiction over the complaint and will accept it for investigation, then all parties to the complaint must receive notice of what is being investigated and must have an opportunity to respond to the notice.

For a complaint involving a federally funded program or activity, this notice generally is provided to the CP, and the named Respondents. Some federal funding agencies also may request notice that you’ve accepted a complaint. In a workplace complaint, the Complainant is provided notice as well as the Respondent, who may be a supervisor, manager, co-worker, contractor, or the like.

And, in complaints involving harassment or hostile environment, higher-ranking officials in the chain of command may need to be served with the notice.

√ Why do both parties need to know?

Providing notice to both parties that you have accepted a discrimination complaint for investigation is required because each party needs to be allowed to present evidence. Most discrimination complaints arise under the disparate treatment legal theory. Here, the CP or Complainant must demonstrate a prima facie case that discrimination occurred by a preponderance of the evidence; that is, it is more likely than not that prohibited discrimination occurred. Then the burden shifts to the Respondents to present legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for their conduct. Finally, the burden shifts back to the CP or Complainant to demonstrate that the Respondents proffered reasons are pretextual.

Therefore, both sides of the dispute will need to participate in the investigative process.

√ The conduct of the investigation

At this point, both sides of the dispute are aware of the investigation. You will not have control over whether a party or witness talks, e-mails, or tweets about the complaint. And, an investigator is cautioned against seeking to impose “gag” orders on anyone involved. Nor should an investigator threaten disciplinary action or other sanctions against any party or witness discussing the matter. These are not useful tactics and they may constitute a violation of certain federal laws. Indeed, certain private employers must be mindful of the recent decision of the National Labor Relations Board in Banner Health System and Navarro, 358 NLRB 93 (July 30, 2012) (an employer may not apply a rule prohibiting employees from discussing ongoing investigations of employee insubordination as this violates the National Labor Relations Act).

Some investigators may want to “expedite” matters by conducting an “informal” investigation without written notice to either party. This is problematic. In order for your investigation to be fair to both parties, the parties must know the issue that you are looking into for purposes of the complaint, and they must have an opportunity to be heard on the issue.

Some investigators in educational programs and activities may be hesitant to issue written notices out of concern that students may disseminate the notices via e-mail, Facebook, or the like, thus hindering the ability to conduct a fair investigation.

In such situations, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the Respondent educational institution will (or should) have privacy and confidentiality policies related to these discrimination complaint investigations, and these policies should be widely-published. Although the policies bind the investigator and his or her organizations in respecting the privacy of parties and confidentiality of the investigative process, it may be useful to provide a copy of these policies to the CP or Complainant and the alleged wrongdoer(s). Here, you do not seek to control the actions of the parties (as this a losing battle); rather, you seek to increase their awareness of the importance of confidentiality and privacy in these investigations.

Although “gag” orders and disciplinary threats are not recommended ways to curb open discussions of an ongoing discrimination investigation, the following points can be made verbally and in writing to the parties:

● Acceptance of the complaint of discrimination does not mean that discrimination has occurred. It only means that there is authority to start the investigation of the complaint (i.e. the complaint was timely filed and so on). At this point, information will be gathered from both sides to determine whether each of the allegations in the complaint is proven or not proven. If the allegations are not proven, then a written finding that discrimination is not proven will be issued. If the allegations are proven by a preponderance of the evidence, then a written finding of discrimination will issue.

When issuing a written notice accepting a discrimination complaint for investigation, the investigator may decide to include the following language at the beginning of the written notice:

THIS NOTICE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE A FINDING THAT ANY DISCRIMINATION HAS OCCURRED. THE SOLE PURPOSE OF THIS NOTICE IS TO INFORM THE PARTIES THAT I HAVE RECEIVED A DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AND I HAVE AUTHORITY TO INVESTIGATE IT.

An investigator can reinforce his or her expectations that the parties should focus their energies on aiding with the investigation. The investigator, in turn, will focus on getting to the bottom of the allegations made to determine whether prohibited discrimination took place.

● An investigator should make clear that the conduct of the CP or Complainant and the Respondents during the investigation will be considered in determining whether the investigative process is being improperly utilized to harass a party, retaliate against a party, or the like. And, any written communications of the parties at the time of the incident at issue, including e-mail exchanges and postings on social media may be gathered and analyzed to determine the motives of the parties.

● The parties should be reminded that the purpose of the investigative process is not to threaten, intimidate, retaliate against, or humiliate either party. They should understand that it is the investigator’s job to develop the evidence and determine what happened.

● The one person whose conduct can be controlled in this entire process is that of the investigator. To maintain credibility, an investigator must be discrete, non-judgmental with both parties, and confidential in his or her words (written and verbal) and actions. An investigator should not discuss the investigation with co-workers, friends, or family. There should be no interference from outside sources seeking to dictate the course and/or outcome of the investigation. And, the investigator must have authority to report directly to the highest-ranking official of the agency, company, or organization. The parties have come to the investigator because they need to have a problem solved. The investigator should be part of the solution to the problem as opposed to being part of its continuation or escalation.

● It is important for an investigator to be organized and to resolve the complaint as soon as practicable. Whether the discrimination complaint stems from the operation of a government program or conduct in the workplace, efforts at counseling and/or mediation early in the process can be very helpful.

● Finally, complaints of harassment and hostile environment present some additional challenges for the investigator. Prior to the filing of any such complaint, leadership at an agency, company, educational institution, or other organization must make sure it has specific written steps in place for separating the individuals involved. Although an investigator must gather evidence and statements to determine whether the allegations of harassment and hostile environment are proven by a preponderance of the evidence, steps must be taken in the interim to provide relief and protection for the CP or Complainant from the alleged wrongdoer(s). And, for such complaints arising in the workplace, the EEOC encourages the investigator to keep the identity of the Complainant, and the information collected, as confidential as possible. There is a reality that the investigator needs to be able to collect evidence and question witnesses about the event at issue. The idea, however, is that the investigator should exercise diligence and caution, and should refrain from openly discussing the investigation in the workplace.

√ The final determination

Once the investigation is completed, a written determination of findings and conclusions must be sent to the parties. In complaints involving federally funded programs and activities, the federal funding agency also may require that you submit a copy to it. And, some federal funding agencies require that the written determination be sent to the state Governor’s office. The determination should provide the parties with a notice of any appeal rights available to them should they wish to challenge the determination. Similarly, final agency actions issued after investigation of workplace disputes must comply with EEOC requirements. For a description of those requirements, go to www.eeoc.gov.

Again, the investigator should not offer side comments or other statements to anyone. The determination will speak for itself and it should be only in the hands of the persons who are required to be notified. Otherwise, the investigative file containing notes, evidence, witness statements, notices, and determinations must be kept confidential, and secured in a location with limited (“need to know”) access.

√ 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, K-12 public school systems, 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 on-site 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 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.

Office of Disability Employment Policy Newsletter (March 28, 2014)

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

In Pursuit of Inclusive Technology — Assistant Secretary Martinez at CSUN Conference

Hundreds of attendees at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored annually by California State University of Northridge (CSUN) gathered last week to explore the vital importance of ensuring technology is accessible to people with disabilities. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez delivered the event’s keynote address on March 20, during which she talked about the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to promote the development and adoption of accessible workplace technology by America’s employers, as well as the government’s use of new technologies to advance collaborative policymaking and outreach. “While I’ve certainly experienced the frustration of workplace technology that is not accessible,” said Martinez, “I’ve also seen the promise of universally designed technology that can empower all of us to excel and fully participate — at work, and in life.”

National Online Conversation for Change on Social Media Accessibility Open through April 4

Through April 4, members of the public are invited to participate in a national online dialogue, “Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media — The User Experience,” to examine the accessibility barriers of social media tools faced by individuals with disabilities, including job seekers and workers. Co-hosted by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the National Council on Disability (NCD), this event aims to explore the value of social media in the lives of people with disabilities, particularly around work, and to identify accessibility issues and creative approaches to making social media tools more accessible and usable for everyone. The information gathered from this dialogue will then help NCD and ODEP further collaborate with the social media industry to implement solutions and improve the accessibility of these online tools. The dialogue is the first in a series of three social media accessibility online events to take place over the next three months.

Online Dialogue to Help Shape the 2014 NDEAM Theme Closes March 31

The national online dialogue to share ideas for this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme is coming to a close on March 31. There is still time to submit your suggestions for a theme that reminds everyone of the valuable skills and talents that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. Don’t miss your chance to contribute to the conversation!

WRP.jobs Online Job Board Open to Private Sector Employers

Private sector employers can now use WRP.jobs, a free online job board, to find pre-screened college students and recent graduates with disabilities looking for internships and permanent positions through the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). WRP candidates represent all majors and include graduate and law students, as well as veterans. The WRP is a government-wide program co-sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor to increase employment of people with disabilities in the federal workforce. Through WRP.jobs, interested non-federal employers can post permanent and temporary positions and WRP students can search and apply for these positions using employers’ standard application processes. WRP.jobs is a pilot project developed through a collaboration between the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN), the organization that administers the WRP program for non-federal employers, and DirectEmployers, a non-profit consortium of global employers.

OFCCP Launches New Outreach and Recruitment Database for Contractors

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) recently launched a database to help contractors find qualified workers with disabilities and veterans, and to assist contractors with establishing relationships with national organizations and local community groups that have access to these workers. Contractors, as well as others, can visit OFCCP’s Disability and Veterans Community Resources Directory on the OFCCP website. This new resource supplements the agency’s existing Employment Resources Referral Directory.

LEAD Center Releases March Policy Update — Employment, Health Care and Disability

The March 2014 issue of the LEAD Center’s Policy Update — Employment, Health Care and Disability is now available. This monthly update, created in collaboration with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, provides policymakers, disability service professionals, individuals with disabilities and their families with information about relevant policy developments regarding Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and related topics, with a focus on improving employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The March edition features stories on the President’s proposed 2015 budget, a recent webinar series hosted by ODEP, CMS and the LEAD Center, states considering private health coverage to low-income adults, a study on the benefits of Medicaid expansion for uninsured people with mental illness and Pennsylvania’s proposed Medicaid expansion.

Fall White House Internship Program — Applications Due April 13

The White House Internship Program provides a unique opportunity to gain valuable professional experience and build leadership skills. This hands-on program is designed to mentor and cultivate today’s young leaders, strengthen their understanding of the Executive Office and prepare them for future public service opportunities. The White House Internship Program’s mission is to make the “People’s House” accessible to future leaders from around the nation. The application for the Fall 2014 White House Internship Program is now open and the deadline is April 13, 2014.

Civil Rights News From Secretary Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Friend,

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.

Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.

Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools. Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.

Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Disparities in high school retention. Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent). Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

WIA EO Officers and Equal Opportunity Professionals in Federally-Funded Programs: Assistance Developing Nondiscrimination Policies and Procedures

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Often, you know the civil rights laws that apply to your federally-assisted programs and activities (such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Workforce Investment Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, and so on), but you get stuck trying to figure out how to implement these laws on the ground. We can help.

We will work with you to develop policies and procedures tailored to the structure of your organization, and the nature of the federally-assisted programs and activities you offer. There are a variety of procedures required to document your compliance with civil rights laws, including:

● Discrimination complaint procedures
● Procedures for assessing corrective actions and sanctions
● Procedures for serving limited English proficient (LEP) populations
● Procedures for serving persons with disabilities and handling accommodation requests
● Procedures for handling religious-based accommodation requests
● Procedures for gathering, handling, and storing medical information
● Procedures for including required assurances on all agreements as well as the use of taglines, posting the “Equal Opportunity Is the Law” posters, and data collection

We also offer a variety of consultation services, training, and off-site desk audits of your website and other written materials to help you ensure your organization’s compliance with federal civil rights requirements, and we work hard to provide the most cost-effective and practical recommendations for you. Failure to comply with federal civil rights laws in delivering aid, services, training, or benefits to the public may result in the loss of funding.

You’ll find more information about our services at www.titleviconsulting.com. Our customers appreciate the thoroughness and timeliness of our work. As an example, one senior county executive commented, “Your procedures document is very comprehensive and inclusive of all that I am aware that we need and beyond . . . it is a pleasure working with you.”

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 one-hour on-demand webcasts, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, 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.

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.

Ms. Foster is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.

New Guidance from Justice and Education: Discipline at Educational Institutions and Discrimination (January 8, 2014)

Monday, January 13th, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued joint guidance designed to help educational institutions develop policies and procedures for discipline that comply with applicable federal civil rights laws.

The January 8, 2014 press release:

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), today released a school discipline guidance package that will assist states, districts and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate, and ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law. Even though incidents of school violence have decreased overall, too many schools are still struggling to create positive, safe environments. Schools can improve safety by making sure that climates are welcoming and that responses to misbehavior are fair, non-discriminatory and effective. Each year, significant numbers of students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions—even for minor infractions of school rules—and students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. The guidance package provides resources for creating safe and positive school climates, which are essential for boosting student academic success and closing achievement gaps.

“Effective teaching and learning cannot take place unless students feel safe at school,”U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Positive discipline policies can help create safer learning environments without relying heavily on suspensions and expulsions. Schools also must understand their civil rights obligations and avoid unfair disciplinary practices. We need to keep students in class where they can learn. These resources are a step in the right direction.”

The resource package consists of four components:

The Dear Colleague guidance letter on civil rights and discipline, prepared in conjunction with DOJ, describes how schools can meet their legal obligations under federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating against students on the basis of race, color or national origin;

The Guiding Principles document draws from emerging research and best practices to describe three key principles and related action steps that can help guide state and local efforts to improve school climate and school discipline;

The Directory of Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources indexes the extensive federal technical assistance and other resources related to school discipline and climate available to schools and districts; and

The Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations, an online catalogue of the laws and regulations related to school discipline in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, compares laws across states and jurisdictions.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,”Attorney General Eric Holder said. “This guidance will promote fair and effective disciplinary practices that will make schools safe, supportive and inclusive for all students. By ensuring federal civil rights protections, offering alternatives to exclusionary discipline and providing useful information to school resource officers, we can keep America’s young people safe and on the right path.”

The guidance package is a resource resulting from a collaborative project—the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (SSDI)—between ED and DOJ. The SSDI, launched in 2011, addresses the school-to-prison pipeline and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system. The initiative aims to support instead school discipline practices that foster safe, inclusive and positive learning environments while keeping students in school. The Department of Justice enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in public schools, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by schools, law enforcement agencies, and other recipients of federal financial assistance.

The guidance package also results from President Obama’s Now is the Time proposal to reduce gun violence. It called on ED to collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline policies and to help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies. To both continue ED/DOJ efforts in connection with SSDI and fulfill the administration’s commitment to “Now is the Time,” the guidance package was developed with additional input from civil rights advocates, major education organizations and philanthropic partners.

To view the resource documents, visit www.ed.gov/school-discipline.

An excerpt from the introduction to the joint “Dear Colleague” letter

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Departments recognize the commitment and effort of educators across the United States to provide their students with an excellent education. The Departments believe that guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline will assist schools in providing all students with equal educational opportunities.

The Departments strongly support schools in their efforts to create and maintain safe and orderly educational environments that allow our nation’s students to learn and thrive. Many schools have adopted comprehensive, appropriate, and effective programs demonstrated to: (1) reduce disruption and misconduct; (2) support and reinforce positive behavior and character development; and (3) help students succeed. Successful programs may incorporate a wide range of strategies to reduce misbehavior and maintain a safe learning environment, including conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling, and structured systems of positive interventions. The Departments recognize that schools may use disciplinary measures as part of a program to promote safe and orderly educational environments.

Regardless of the program adopted, Federal law prohibits public school districts from discriminating in the administration of student discipline based on certain personal characteristics. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title IV), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000c et seq., which prohibits discrimination in public elementary and secondary schools based on race, color, or national origin, among other bases. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the DOJ have responsibility for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq., and its implementing regulations, 34 C.F.R. Part 100, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by recipients of Federal financial assistance. Specifically, OCR enforces Title VI with respect to schools and other recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department of Education.

The Departments initiate investigations of student discipline policies and practices at particular schools based on complaints the Departments receive from students, parents, community members, and others about possible racial discrimination in student discipline. The Departments also may initiate investigations based on public reports of racial disparities in student discipline combined with other information, or as part of their regular compliance monitoring activities.

This guidance will help public elementary and secondary schools administer student discipline in a manner that does not discriminate on the basis of race. Federal law also prohibits discriminatory discipline based on other factors, including disability, religion, and sex. Those prohibitions are not specifically addressed in this guidance because they implicate separate statutes and sometimes different legal analyses (although this guidance applies to race discrimination against all students, including students of both sexes and students with disabilities). Schools are reminded, however, that they must ensure that their discipline policies and practices comply with all applicable constitutional requirements and Federal laws, including civil rights statutes and regulations.