By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
The inflammatory and divisive rhetoric in the current Presidential campaign is hard for much of the electorate to process, but should serve to heighten our awareness of how gender, race and religious bias continues to manifest itself in the modern American workplace. As much as we are making progress in becoming a more diverse and inclusive country, we still have many growing pains on this journey, as is painfully clear from so many statements emanating from the Republican nominee and his campaign leadership.
Let me start with Mr. Trump’s criticism of Hillary Clinton as lacking the “stamina” to be President. There may be many legitimate policy and ideology-based reasons to oppose her candidacy, but this critique coming from an older man is clearly rooted in gender-biased stereotyping. Anyone who believes that women don’t have what it takes compared to men when it comes to leadership “stamina” is engaging in gender and/or age-based stereotyping. Decisions made based on indulging these stereotypes are readily proven to be gender- or age-biased when they occur in the workplace. If a female executive came to me reporting that she was denied a leadership position based on a perception that she lacked the “stamina” to handle the demands of the position, and it was instead awarded to a male candidate, I would tell her she has given me a compelling context in which to establish gender bias.
The same is true when we “value” women, or even characterize them, based on superficial attributes like looks, body shape or appearance. When this occurs, whether overtly or subtly, it can often result in biased decision making, or it fosters a work environment that can become objectively hostile. Excessive references to these attributes in the workplace may expose any employer to liability when women are adversely affected by employment decisions, or are forced to work in an environment where comments along these lines are accepted.
In a similar vein, characterizing those of the Muslim faith as inherently posing a threat to our country based on a notion that all such individuals are sympathetic to “Islamic extremism” is equally repugnant as religious discrimination. Moreover, subjecting Muslim immigrants to more extreme “vetting” in immigration review should constitute a per se violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as well as other state and federal laws barring religious discrimination. Relying on any such stereotyping in the workplace – that Muslims are, by virtue of their religious faith alone, less “American” or less trustworthy than non-Muslims – results in biased decision-making. It has no place in a country devoted to equal employment opportunity.
Finally, characterizing many undocumented immigrants from Mexico as “rapists,” referring to others as “bad hombres,” indicating that a federal judge of Mexican descent cannot make impartial decisions, or generally referring to African Americans or Hispanics as uniformly concentrated in the very worst urban environments, again reflects a dangerous and demeaning stereotype that does not reflect reality. We need understand this rhetoric for what it is – an overt manifestation of illegal bias.
While it is difficult to witness the public airing of these any many other biased statements in this election, my hope is that the resulting public focus and dialogue has and will empower individuals subject to the same or similar bias to stand up and enforce their workplace rights. This begins with finding legal counsel who truly understands how biased decision making often occurs, and knows how to develop the evidence which can establish when bias infects workplace decision making.