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After All, Puerto Rico Is Part Of The United States.
by Tiffini Theisen
December 12, 2001
Question: I recently moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico and started looking for work through temporary agencies. I have extensive clerical experience. One agency I called told me to fax my resume, and after I did a woman called me back and left me this message: "We got your resume; however, the clients that we have are definitely looking for someone who has worked as a secretary or administrative assistant in the United States."
This is quite surprising, and it sounds like a discriminatory thing to say.
Answer: It's certainly a dopey thing to say. After all, Puerto Rico is part of the United States.
And this agency's stance also is discriminatory in the casual, everyday sense of the word. But employers discriminate against job seekers every day, and it's perfectly legal. They reject people they think are too loud or too ugly or too wimpy or whose shirts are too bright.
Employment discrimination is illegal when it's based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, marital status or age.
In your case, you might be suspicious that the staffing agency discriminates against Hispanics. But even so, one answering-machine message is not enough evidence on which to base a lawsuit. Courts generally do not rule against employers in discrimination cases unless there is proof that the bias is extensive and ongoing.
"At first glance, the rejection of the applicant appears to be discriminatory, but a single, offhanded comment is generally not sufficient evidence upon which a party may prevail in a lawsuit," says Tim Shea, an Orlando labor and employment attorney. "For example, language ability requirements and citizenship requirements have been upheld where job-related. But if an employee's accent rather than his or her ability to communicate effectively is at issue, discrimination may be found."
If you believe you are the victim of illegal discrimination, you may file discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov; 813-228-2310) and with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (fchr.state.fl.us; 1-800-342-8170).
The employment agency may simply screen out applicants who don't speak English fluently, making the case that it needs to place employees with excellent communications skills. In that case, discrimination would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
"If they're assembly-line workers and speaking English is not an important part of the job, then it would seem to be a pretext for discrimination," Shea says. "But if you're seeking a position as a telephone receptionist, one could make a reasonable argument that English skills are important."