Title VII of the Civil Rights Act disallows employers to discriminate against applicants on criteria that relates to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. You can now add another item to the list: discrimination based on whether or not you already have a job.
An unknown but growing problem is employer discrimination against those who've been out of work for a very long time. Increasingly, companies are putting out ads for jobs that require that the applicant be "currently employed." This makes it more difficult for those who've been seeking work for long periods of time to have a chance to find a job.
The legislation designed to remedy this problem is referred to as The Fair Employment Act of 2011 (H.R. 1113), which was drafted by Rep. Hank Johnson (D.- GA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D. - Ill). The legislation effectively amends the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal for employers to refuse to hire or give lower compensation to people because of their employment status.
"I just thought about how unfair that was, to discriminate against people who had lost their jobs due to no fault of their own, who were just victims of corporate downsizing during a tough economy," Johnson told HuffPost. "And then to be penalized for having that status is very unfair. It reminded me of the days when blacks were told to not apply for jobs, when job ads said 'No women allowed.' This really affected me, and I decided that there was something that we could do."
The bill, if it passes, would put the burden onto the plaintiff to prove that discrimination ever took place. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove that discrimination occurred, at least the way the courts have been structured over the last decade. But legislators argue that having the law on the books will at least stem back blatant discrimination with ads requesting that the applicant already be employed.
This bill is like much of everything else that the American public sees coming out of Washington: modestly helpful, but not very meaningful. Many people of color across America are victims of various forms of discrimination, racial and otherwise. Unfortunately, they often find that their needs and issues are ignored by political leaders who are trapped by the status quo in a historically racist society. Even departments and organizations that haven't hired more than one black person in over a decade are let off the hook, as many are allowed to simply conclude that black people just aren't qualified.
We can at least say that this legislation is better than nothing, and it is our greatest hope that conscientious legislators like Jesse Jackson Jr. will continue to carry the torch in Washington.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here. To follow Dr. Boyce on Facebook, please click here.