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African American federal employees still face discrimination in workplace

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a report last week detailing some the discriminatory issues facing African American federal workers. The report also outlined some suggestion on how to go about improving the work opportunities.

The findings indicate that while much overt racism and discrimination have been eliminated, a more difficult type of unconscious discrimination remains. Carlton Hadden, the director of EEOC's Office of Federal Operations, said, "This effort is the latest step in an ongoing dialogue with agency stakeholders to effectuate a model federal workplace for all employees."

The report notes that much employment discrimination results from "unconscious bias" that is produced by learned stereotypes that individuals use during social interaction. Because the process is unconscious, there is typically no direct evidence of discriminatory animus.

This makes it more challenging to bring a discrimination charge, as neutral observers may be baffled that an African American worker is alleging discrimination, because they do not observe any blatant racism or other forms of discrimination. Existing anti-discrimination laws were enacted in response to the obvious racial discrimination of that time. 50 years of prosecution under these laws have eliminated much of this type of behavior.

Moreover, because many of the current forms of discrimination are unconscious, finding evidence that comports with the legal analysis that derives from the Civil Rights Act era legislation is more difficult. Some of the discrimination seen today, according to the report, results from "unintentional categorization-related judgment errors."

Remedying this problem is becoming more difficult as federal agencies are forced to make do with fewer employees. In an environment of sequestration, furloughs and potential layoffs, paths toward advancement and greater job responsibilities are problematic for all employees.

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "New EEOC Report Examines Obstacles Facing African Americans in Federal Workplace," March 14, 2013

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