- Category: News
22 Sep 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Bass Pro has been discriminating in its hiring since at least November 2005. It also has retaliated against some employees who spoke out against discriminatory practices, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit is of special concern in Memphis, a city where African Americans represent the majority and city leaders have approved a private-public partnership between the City and Bass Pro to redevelop the Pyramid, a former sports arena.
The redevelopment costs have been estimated at nearly $25 million, with construction to begin in October. Bass Pro signed a 20-year lease for that location last year, with a possible total of 55 years.
Joblessness is a key issue within the African-American community, here and elsewhere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for August found that the national unemployment rate for whites was 8.0 percent, while the rate for African Americans was 16.7 percent, and the Hispanic unemployment rate was 11.3 percent.
Many African-American civil rights leaders and others suggest that institutional bias is one of the contributing factors to the huge disparity in unemployment rates.
Mike Rowland, vice president of Human Resources for Bass Pro, said in a press release that the company is taking the accusations very seriously.
“The EEOC’s allegations are contrary to our profound respect for and commitment to our team of experienced and knowledgeable associates, and we are determined to prove them wrong,” Rowland said.
Memphis and Bass Pro
Soon after learning of the EEOC move against Bass Pro, the New Tri-State Defender contacted Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and put these two questions to him:
• Do you believe that the City of Memphis ought to research and explore the diversity practices and policies of companies that it actively recruits or partners with, given the fact that the black unemployment rate in the city is estimated at about 16 percent, nearly double the rate for white?
• What assurances of economic inclusion should the city seek for the citizens of Memphis – those jobless and fully employed – who are going to be contributing toward this redevelopment project?
“I certaintly believe the hiring practices with respect to minorities are relevant,” Wharton said in statement relayed through his spokesperson, Mary Cashiola.
“It is for that reason that the matrix that determines the amount of incentives contains a number of programs that give more points to applicants that agree to hire minorities and hard to employ individuals such as ex-offenders,” Wharton said.
The city does seek assurances that the applicants will be inclusive in hiring and procurement practices, Wharton said.
“We do this in different ways, such as requiring a local ‘spend,’ which due to the demographics of Memphis is another way of giving particular attention to hiring and contracting with minorities.”
City Councilman Harold Collins said, “On the Bass Pro deal or any other deal, the council can propose a certain amount of minimum goal of participation but it is the mayor that signs these deals and only he can insist that contractors and companies include African American and minorities.”
The suit – in detail
The EEOC’s suit alleges that qualified African Americans and Hispanics were routinely denied retail positions and that managers showed bias by stating that “hiring black candidates” did not fit the corporate profile.
The lawsuit alleges that managers at Bass Pro stores in the Houston area, in Louisiana, and elsewhere made overtly racially derogatory remarks acknowledging the discriminatory practices.
“Excluding qualified individuals from employment because of their race or ethnicity or in retaliation for exercising protected rights are fundamental violations of the laws we enforce,” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, chair of the EEOC.
“The EEOC will diligently protect the rights of job applicants to ensure that hiring decisions are based on abilities, not on race or ethnicity.”
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Bass Pro from engaging in race discrimination, national origin discrimination, retaliation, and improper record destruction. It also seeks back pay on behalf of victims of hiring discrimination and/or retaliation, compensatory and punitive damages and other relief, including implementing fair recruitment and hiring procedures, and reinstatement or rightful-place hiring of mistreated job applicants.
In addition, the lawsuit claims that Bass Pro unlawfully destroyed or failed to keep records and documents related to employment applications and internal discrimination complaints. Bass Pro punished employees who opposed the company’s unlawful practices, in some instances firing them or forcing them to resign.
All this alleged behavior violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and national origin, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about employment discrimination and requires them to keep certain employment records.
“As a law enforcement agency, the EEOC is uniquely positioned to challenge systemic hiring discrimination,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC.
“It is unlawful for employers to deny jobs to applicants based on their race or national origin and the EEOC will vigorously pursue such cases and require companies to reform their hiring practices and make victims of the discrimination whole.”
The EEOC’s administrative investigation culminated in findings of class-wide hiring discrimination based on statistical and anecdotal evidence, and retaliation. The EEOC attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with Bass Pro before filing suit.
“We will hold employers accountable for depriving qualified minority workers of good jobs simply because of their race or national origin,” said EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher. “Such behavior is always out of season.”