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Do EEO laws protect you? YES! You are a member of a “protected class." EEO laws protect all employees and applicants from employment discrimination.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is defined in civil rights law as unfavorable or unfair treatment of a person or class of persons in comparison to others who are not members of the class because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicapping condition, or in reprisal for opposition to discriminatory practices or participation in the EEO process.

Federal EEO laws prohibit an employer from discriminating against persons in all aspects of employment, including recruitment, selection, evaluation, promotion, training, compensation, discipline, retention and working conditions, because of their protected status.

All Customs employees and applicants for employment are covered by these EEO laws. For example, the protection against racial discrimination afforded employees and job applicants is not limited to members of any particular race (white employees also are protected under Title VII). (See Appendix III for a summary of the EEO laws.)

Unfair Treatment v. Unlawful Discrimination

Unfair treatment is not necessarily unlawful discrimination. Treating a person unfavorably in comparison to others violates EEO laws only when that person's protected status is a factor in the treatment. For example, giving one white female better assignments than another white female similarly qualified may be unfair but not discriminatory. Giving a white female better assignments than a similarly qualified minority female may be discriminatory.

Employment decisions should be based only on jobrelated, merit factors. All employees should avoid conduct which undermines fair and equal treatment. Although all unfair treatment may not be discriminatory, it is poor personnel management and should be avoided.

EEO v. Preferential Treatment

Federal EEO laws do not require an employer to extend preferential treatment to any person or group because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicapping condition. EEO merely demands that all persons receive the same opportunities for hiring, training, promotion, etc. When those opportunities have not been available to all groups in the past because of discrimination, affirmative action is required to overcome the effect of such bias. (See Section 3 on affirmative action.)

Types of Discrimination


A specific, observable action to discriminate against a person or class of persons because of protected status (e.g., national origin.)

This treatment also is referred to as “conventional” or, sometimes, "intentional discrimination.”


Use of racial and ethnic epithets or slurs when referring to minorities (race, color, and national origin discrimination).

Disparate Treatment

Unfavorable or unfair treatment of a person in comparison to others similarly situated because of that person's protected status. This generally involves the inconsistent or unfair application of an employment rule, policy, or practice.

This treatment also is referred to as "unequal” or “differential treatment."


A male employee is reprimanded for returning from lunch late. A female employee who also returned late is not reprimanded (sex discrimination).

Disparate Impact

Uniform application to all applicants or employees of certain personnel policies that have the effect of denying employment or advancement to members of protected classes. Business necessity would be the only justification for continuing these policies. (See Appendix Il for further explanation of business necessity.)

This treatment also is referred to as “discrimination by effect” or “adverse impact."


Word-of-mouth advertising of job vacancies in situations where minorities and women are underrepresented in the workforce. If this is the only method of communicating vacancies, nonminorities probably will be informed about job openings at a higher rate than minorities (race and/or sex discrimination).

Discrimination does not have to be intentional to be unlawful. Some practices and actions unintentionally discriminate and are unlawful.

Common Discriminatory Practices

National Origin

Imposing a rule that requires employees to speak English at all times in the workplace, even when speaking another language does not interfere with the conduct of business.


Excluding older employees from attending conferences, seminars or training that prepares employees for promotions.


Refusing to assign a female inspector to an all-male Customs Enforcement Team because of fear of danger to the female.


Discharging a white employee for misconduct, but not a black employee involved in the same incident or engaged in similar conduct.


Selecting for employment a light-skinned black applicant who is less qualified than a dark-skinned black applicant.


Disciplining an employee for wearing religious attire while on duty (e.g., a yarmulke).

Handicapping Condition

Rejecting for employment a qualified applicant because of that person's handicapping condition if the handicap does not affect his/her ability to perform the job and the work site is accessible.



Customs is liable for any acts of unlawful discrimination committed by its "agents" (officials, supervisory personnel, etc.) when they act within the scope of their duty. However, when Customs employees act either within or

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