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The Year in Diversity: 2018’s Biggest (and Most Costly) Discrimination Disasters

Let’s start with the good news. While plenty of companies made the news in 2018 for all the wrong reasons when it came to diversity and inclusion (D&I), overall things are improving. Whether it’s big tech companies like Intel hitting internal diversity goals while acknowledging there’s still a long way to go, or the 12% rise in workplace sexual harassment charges being met with employers taking allegations more seriously, there has been a silver lining to many of the biggest D&I stories of the year.

That’s the good news. But, it wasn’t all good.

Unfortunately, 2018 also saw a litany of companies big and small getting into hot water over completely avoidable discriminatory behavior, both in the hiring process and in the workplace itself. The issues were far-reaching, covering everything from gender and racial discrimination to disability and pregnancy bias.

And these mistakes have been costly. In the fiscal year 2018 alone, employers paid $505 million to resolve charges filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But the damage to their reputations and just as importantly, their brands, may have been even greater.

To help you avoid making the list next year, here are a few of the biggest hiring discrimination disasters of 2018. Some made national news, some didn’t, but all serve as an important reminder that these issues are still extremely relevant—and can happen to anyone if you’re not careful.

1. Tech giant faces age discrimination lawsuit after firing—and refusing to hire—older workers

One huge tech company made headlines in 2018 for an issue that is definitely felt by many workers: age discrimination. In a class-action lawsuit filed in September, three former employees alleged that the company both disproportionally lays off older workers and denies them opportunities in the hiring process.

Ironically, 2018 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in the U.S.

After being told they were losing their jobs earlier this year, two of the employees who filed the lawsuit used the employer’s internal hiring platform to apply for multiple open positions. One had been with the company for 15 years, the other for 33, so it was no real surprise that they didn’t want to leave. Despite being highly qualified, experienced, and loyal, neither received a single response to their applications.

While the company denies the ageism allegations, it may face a trial by jury and a targeted investigation by the EEOC. The potential fallout? Hundreds of millions of dollars—and a serious image problem.

2. Convenience store pays $88,000 for revoking interview offer made to deaf applicant

A Washington state convenience store caught the EEOC’s eye this year when it withdrew an interview offer made to an applicant—after discovering he was deaf.

The candidate was qualified and had experience working in similar positions. But when he told the store manager he’d need an interpreter for the interview, the offer was immediately revoked—violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"My being deaf does not prevent me from being a qualified worker with much to contribute," the applicant points out in a press release on the EEOC’s website.

The Idaho-based chain paid $88,000 to settle the disability discrimination lawsuit leveled against it. It also agreed to hire the applicant and train its staff about reasonable accommodations.

This is a positive step in the right direction, and the new employee says he’s excited for the company to see what he has to offer. But on the negative, discrimination can result in a steep payout and might cost you a great employee.

3. Social media platform accused of helping companies discriminate against women in their job ads

Gender discrimination stories continue to make the news, but one in 2018 really stood out: in September, a prominent social media platform was accused of helping other companies discriminate against women by allowing targeted job ads to only reach men.

A group of jobseekers has filed charges against the platform and nine employers that advertised jobs on it, claiming the targeted campaigns violate federal employment laws. After clicking the standard “Why am I seeing this ad?” disclosure statement, users were told the employer was trying to reach men within a certain age range in the area.

This case hints at a much bigger problem. As one lawyer points out, “people don’t know they’re not seeing an ad.” One female applicant noted that she struggled to find any leads on the platform even when explicitly looking for them, while her husband saw these ads constantly.

The platform has not yet committed to taking down job ads that discriminate against a gender.

It’s dangerously easy to start picturing what your ideal candidate looks like as soon as you start writing your job postings—and if technology enables you to hunt for people who match that profile, that accidental bias can quickly turn into a pricey discrimination lawsuit. Luckily, technology can also be used to eliminate bias (more on that in a moment!).

4. Women’s health organization pulls job offer after learning candidate is pregnant

This story comes out of Australia, but it’s indicative of a wider problem across the hiring landscape. A Melbourne-based mom revealed in November that a woman’s health organization revoked her job offer—solely because she was pregnant.

The applicant only discovered she was pregnant following her first interview with the company. After a second interview, she received the call every applicant dreams of—the job was hers.

“I thanked them and I told the woman on the phone I wanted to be transparent and that I had literally just found out I was pregnant and it was very early days,” the woman explains. “I was about six weeks.”

This level of honesty seemed fitting for the job at hand, which involved openly discussing women’s health issues in a supportive forum. But far from being supportive, the company abruptly hung up on her. A week later, she received another call. The offer had been taken off the table.

Asked for an explanation, the company didn’t shy away from the fact that its decision was based on the woman’s pregnancy, stating that she’d be going on maternity leave as soon as she got up to speed. The employer also advised her to call back if her “circumstances changed.” The candidate was shaken at the implication that a miscarriage was her only chance at getting the job.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. In June, The New York Times reported that pregnancy discrimination is still rampant in the American workplace. Denied opportunities and treated poorly, many women feel trapped between a rock and a hard place, knowing that the odds of finding a new job while pregnant are slim.

If you’re uncertain what the law says about hiring pregnant candidates, consult the EEOC’s pregnancy discrimination page. The website also contains handy information about all the issues we’ve discussed in this article.

Make bias a thing of the past

As the New Year draws near, make a resolution to eliminate bias from your hiring process. No one is perfect in this department, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all strive to be better. By taking proactive steps, you’ll not only stay out of the headlines, but find it easier to hire the very best candidate for each job.

Career.Place can help you welcome in a bias-free 2019. Our revolutionary software solution allows you to zero in on the things that really matter—like the skills and traits vital for doing the job well—while leaving all potentially biasing information at the door.

Put your best foot forward next year. Start using today.

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