Jul 03, 2008

Discrimination Code Words: Just as Illegal

Discrimination is cloaking itself in more subtle terms. As EEOC attorney Sanya Hill Maxion told Dahleen Glanton of the Chicago Tribune, "People are smart and know they cannot use blatant terms, so they get the message across in other ways." It may come out on a job description as "enthusiastic" or "progressive" -- but if it really means "young," it's discriminatory.

Maxion represented Tomeika Broussard, who won $44,000 in a racial discrimination lawsuit against her employer. Broussard's supervisor called her "reggin" -- it sounded negative to Broussard, but it didn't automatically register that it was the "N" word spelled backwards. (Check out Glanton's article to read a full account of her ordeal.)

"Smarter" discrimination means smarter deciphering is in order. No one wants to quelch inside jokes or friendly banter, or rewrite an enthusiastic job description as a dry recitation of job duties. But many times, the negative connotation of a word -- even one we may not understand -- is obvious, just as it was to Ms. Broussard.

Alayna Schroeder