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Employment Discrimination in the United States


Employment discrimination is a major issue not only in the United States but also in other countries around the world. Zimmer and Sullivan define employment discrimination as unequal treatment of employees or job seekers based on their gender, race, religion, nationality, physical appearance, age, mental or physical disability, and sexual orientation (41). It involves giving one group of people preferential treatment because they belong to the socially acceptable class.

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In the United States, the problem has persisted for several decades despite the effort that has been made by the government and civil societies to ensure that every citizen is given equal opportunities irrespective of his or her demographic classification. Laws have been enacted to fight this vice and to ensure that employers are responsible for promoting equality in the workplace environment. In this paper, the researcher will analyze this legal issue and determine what the future might bring if the problem is not addressed.

Employment discrimination is a systemic problem in the United States. It can be traced back to the days of slavery and the slave trade in the country. African Americans and other minority groups such as the Indians were considered racially inferior to Whites. They worked as slaves in the plantations and the industrial sector (McGinley 58). When slavery was abolished, the perception that Whites are superior to other minority groups persisted. During the same period, women did not have equal rights to men. They were not allowed to vote, and most of them were not actively involved in income-generating activities (Sargeant 54). Through the effort of civil rights movements, various laws have been enacted, creating equal opportunities for all Americans irrespective of gender, race, and other demographical classifications.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Executive Order 11246 are some of the legal platforms created to ensure that employment discrimination is eliminated in this country (Berrey et al. 98). Although these legislations and efforts made by various human rights groups have help in fighting the vice, cases of discrimination are still common in the country. Rothstein explains that most employers know about these laws and are often keen to avoid actions that may be considered illegal (2221). However, they have new strategies that make it easy to discriminate against others because of their gender, age, or race, or any other demographical classification.

For instance, employees often demand that one should have five to ten years of experience to qualify for specific jobs. When setting such qualifications, they know that young job seekers who recently graduated from college will not qualify. Others use different excuses to avoid hiring people of color or women (Abubaker and Bagley 7). Such practices make it difficult for a section of society to get well-paying jobs despite having high academic qualifications.

Employment discrimination is not new in American society. Legal measures have been taken by various regimes in the country to create an environment where everyone is offered equal opportunity to take part in the country’s economic growth. It is important to conduct a historical analysis of this topic to be in a position to predict its pattern and the manner in which it can be addressed.

According to Zimmer and Sullivan (78), President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 in June 1941 that prohibited government contractors from any discriminative act on race, color, or nationality when hiring workers in various sectors. It was apparent that the country would be forced into the war, and it was necessary to engage all citizens in various economic activities. The order was one of the initial laws that made it possible for people of color to be employed in various government institutions without facing discrimination.

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Executive Order 8802 created a perfect opportunity for the minority groups, especially the African Americans, to be employed in the Armed Forces. However, the order created a new challenge. Segregation was common in the forces. African American soldiers were viewed as less equal colleagues in the army. It created discord that threatened the efficiency of the soldiers. President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July 1948 that ordered equal treatment for all members of the service irrespective of their race, religion, or national origin (Rothstein 2222). The president knew that integrating America’s fighting forces was critical as a way of ensuring that coordination is achieved in case the country had to face another major war.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in May 1954 was another historical event in the fight against employment discrimination (Sargeant 89). Before this ruling, there was a local, state, and federal laws that held the concept of ‘separate but equal in the education sector (Abubaker and Bagley 5). This concept emphasized the need to have separate learning institutions for people of different races.

The law was anchored on a false belief that even though learning institutions were different, they offered similar syllabus, and as such, learners enjoyed the same quality of education. In the ruling, the Supreme Court held that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal (Rothstein 2222). It means that the fact that some students cannot attend specific schools because of their race was discriminative. Integrating has to start in learning institutions for it to be realized in the workplace. Children must learn that their race or religion does not make them inferior or superior to others in society.

President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 in March 1961that prohibited all federal government contractors from engaging in employment discrimination because of the race (Zimmer and Sullivan 67). The president was particularly keen on fighting racial discrimination that was threatening the fabric of American society. He established President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity that was chaired by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to help in enforcing the order (Berrey et al. 90).

The committee was given the authority to impose sanctions against institutions that failed to follow the directive given by the president. McGinley notes that the order was one of the major legal platforms in the United States enacted during the Civil Rights Movement era meant to empower people of color and other minority groups (45).

Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in June 1963 that was meant to protect women from discrimination in the workplace (Abubaker and Bagley 8). The legislation was one of the major initial laws that focused on promoting equality of men and women. It stated that everyone who performs equal work should be offered equal compensation irrespective of gender (Zimmer and Sullivan 88). During this time, it was common to find cases where women were offered relatively lower pay compared with their male colleagues doing the same job. Society still had the perception that men are the breadwinners, and as such, they deserve higher pay when working in the same environment as female colleagues. The Department of Labor was assigned the responsibility of enforcing this law.

In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The primary goal of this legislation was to protect individuals aged between 40 to 65 years from employment discrimination. Many employers preferred hiring younger individuals who were considered more energetic, easy to control, and able to accept relatively low pay. This form of discrimination was common in the industrial sector. Congress assigned the Department of Labor the responsibility of enforcing the law. Any institutions that directly or indirectly discriminated against an individual on the ground of age had to be subjected to punitive measures. Although the law was viewed as a measure to protect older employees, it also benefited young employees who lack the experience needed by some companies at that time.

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The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, also known as DADT, was embraced by the United States armed forces in 1994 as a way of protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the service (McGinley 88). The Clinton Administration was interested in creating an environment in the military that was friendly to people of all sexual orientations. Before then, it was prohibited for military personnel to be openly gay or lesbian. The Department of Defense Directive 1304.26 became the basis of this policy (Berrey et al. 34).

Although it was seen as a relief to gays and homosexuals in the service, many criticized it as an indication that society was still intolerant towards gays. It was viewed as a social evil that many were willing to ignore though they were not happy with it. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was a major step because it eliminated all laws and regulations within the forces that were discriminative to gays and lesbians (Zimmer and Sullivan 112). Currently, soldiers can identify as gays or lesbians without being subjected to discrimination.

Several cases other than the ones discussed above have been presented in different courts in the United States to help fight employment discrimination in the country. One of the notable cases was Connecticut v. Teal, where the Supreme Court held that an employer is liable for racial discrimination when at any stage of its employee selection process, it engages in practices that would result in any form of discrimination against any race (McGinley 87). During this time, there was a general perception that the majority of African Americans were abusing drugs. As such, some institutions came up with policies that required the applicants to go through drug tests to determine if they will be hired or not. Sargeant explains that sometimes Whites would not be tested because the process was meant to limit the number of Blacks hired in such company (78). The ruling meant that such tests could only be conducted in specific institutions, and everyone had to be given equal treatment.

The Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson was another major ruling that redefined sexual harassment in the workplace (Berrey et al. 76). In this case, it was reported that Sidney Taylor, a supervisor at Meritor Savings Bank, had subjected Michelle Vinson to sexual molestation for over three years. When she finally stood her ground and rejected his advances, she was fired from the firm. She stated that the constant sexual harassment had created a hostile working environment, which is a form of discrimination as defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Berrey et al. 43).

The primary question presented to the Supreme Court was to determine whether the hostile environment in the workplace constituted a form of discrimination as defined in the Act of 1964 (Zimmer and Sullivan 67). In a unanimous ruling, the judges held that a hostile work environment constitutes unlawful discrimination as defined in the Act. The landmark ruling was a major relief to women who had suffered in silence when sexually harassed by their superiors in the workplace. It was the beginning of a new era where institutions and individual employees had to be held responsible for sexual harassment.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. has largely been considered as a major Supreme Court decision that protects the rights of gays in the workplace (Zimmer and Sullivan 87). In this case, Joseph Oncale, who was an employee of Sundowner Offshore Services at that time, was forced to resign because of sexual harassment. His colleagues realized that he was gay. The harassment started as verbal attacks against his sexual orientation. When he reported the case to his supervisors, no action was taken against them. The colleagues sodomized him severally before he considered resigning from the job.

He filed a lawsuit against the employer and colleagues for sexual harassment based on his sexual orientation. The Supreme Court held that Title VII’s protection against all forms of discrimination applies to harassment between members of the same gender (McGinley 90). It means that Oncale was sexually harassed and, as such, had to be compensated by the company. The employer was found liable because when Oncale reported the case, nothing was done to protect him from the harassment. The ruling became a major source of law that protects people in the workplace irrespective of one’s sexual orientation.

Researcher’s Opinion of the Topic

Employment discrimination is a social problem that has a serious negative impact on the perpetrators and victims almost in equal measures. In the current competitive global market, firms are struggling to improve their efficiency in operation to lower the cost of production and improve their profitability (Zimmer and Sullivan 54). As such, they need highly talented, experienced, and committed employees.

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Talent is not defined by a person’s gender, race, or any other demographical factor. When a firm embraces any form of discrimination, it will deny itself an opportunity to be competitive in its operations. It will have the people the management considers desirable in terms of race and gender. However, it will lack real talent that would have transformed its operations to the highest level possible. If these talented employees cannot find work elsewhere, the impact of such negative social practices will be felt at a national level.

Local companies will underperform in the global market. The country will face a situation where imports from countries such as China are cheaper than locally produced products because local talents are not adequately used. McGinley says that when a country fails to take full advantage of its local talents, then it will be faced with a situation where it has to rely on imported products because of the competitiveness of the global market (65). The effect will be that local companies may be forced out of the market, creating unemployment even to people who are viewed to belong to the right social class.

The perception that some people are superior to others because of their gender or race is not right. Such misogynistic views, often held by mentally weak individuals, should not be tolerated in a progressive society. Such individuals fear a competitive environment, and as such, they try to create an environment where they are given priority even when others have a better capacity to deliver better results.

The history of the researcher’s opinion has been defined by events that have been witnessed in this society over the recent past. It is clear that society is increasingly becoming intolerant towards diversity. People no longer feel safe when in the midst of those of different races, religions, or any other demographical classification. The history of society has not provided a lesson to the current generation about the dangers of racism and extremism. Leaders need to find ways of addressing this problem.

What the Researcher Thinks the Future Might Bring for the Topic

Employment discrimination is a social vice that American society has tried to fight over the past several decades. Numerous laws have been enacted to ensure that institutions and individuals desist from discriminatory acts that may affect the ability of a worker to enjoy working at a given place. Although the problem persists, it is important to appreciate that major milestones have been made in promoting equality (Zimmer and Sullivan 85). Private companies and government institutions are currently governed by strict policies, which make it almost impossible for them to engage in discriminatory acts. The punitive measures put in place against institutions and individuals who go against various employment laws have helped in fighting the vice.

People know that they will be held individually liable for their discriminative actions. Institutions also know that they can be punished for tolerating or facilitating discriminative acts. Various challenges may exist as society moves towards a discrimination-free workplace. However, the future is more promising if the current trends are maintained. Isolated cases of harassment and discrimination may be witnessed, but it will not be a socially acceptable practice across the country. People will feel comfortable pursuing their careers in the United States irrespective of their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other demographical factor.


The United States is one of the culturally diverse countries in the world because of many years of immigration. Diversity has led to the emergence of the problem of social discrimination. The paper shows that employment discrimination is one of the social problems that have persisted in society for decades. The Senate, Congress, Presidential Executive Orders, and Supreme Court ruling have helped develop laws that prohibit acts of discrimination in the workplace because of one’s gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other demographical factor. The problem is not as rampant as it was five or six decades ago.

However, the few cases that are still reported, especially the discrimination that targets women, the minority, and homosexuals, is a sign that more still needs to be done. There is a need to change the perception of the society that people of a certain race, gender, or sexual orientation are inferior to the rest of the population. The workplace should be safe for everyone, and opportunities should be presented to all who are qualified in a given field.

Works Cited

Abubaker, Mahmoud, and Christopher Bagley. “Methodology of Correspondence Testing for Employment Discrimination Involving Ethnic Minority Applications: Dutch and English Case Studies of Muslim Applicants for Employment.” Social Sciences, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 1-9.

Berrey, Ellen, et al. Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.

McGinley, Ann C. Masculinity at Work: Employment Discrimination Through a Different Lens. New York University Press, 2016.

Rothstein, Mark. “Innovations of the Americans with Disabilities Act Confronting Disability Discrimination in Employment.” Journal of American Medical Association, vol. 313, no. 22, pp. 2221-2222.

Sargeant, Malcolm. Age Discrimination in Employment. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2016.

Zimmer, Michael, and Charles Sullivan. Cases and Materials on Employment Discrimination. Wolters Kluwer, 2017.

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