Compliance Blog

Mexican Food Maker Charged with Discriminating Against Non-Hispanic Applicants

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HR professionals understand that creating a strong anti-discrimination and harassment culture includes eliminating hiring practices that favor some applicants over others because of their race or ethnicity.  Such practices violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and can result in costly lawsuits, fines and penalties.

A recent case offers a twist on hiring discrimination. In January, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a lawsuit charging a leading maker of Mexican food products with discriminating against non-Hispanic job applicants because of their race.

The EEOC alleges that Marquez Brothers International, Inc. violated Title VII by favoring Spanish-speaking Hispanic job applicants in unskilled positions at several of its facilities in California.  According to the lawsuit, the company asked non-Hispanic applicants − including black, white and Asian candidates − if they spoke Spanish, even though it was not a job requirement, and otherwise turned them away from entry-level positions.  

“Deterring applicants from applying because of their race flies in the face of federal law,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office.

The suit seeks back pay, benefits and compensatory and punitive damages for a class of non-Hispanic applicants, as well as other relief intended to prevent further discrimination by Marquez Brothers and its affiliates.

Eliminating barriers in recruiting and hiring

One of the six top priorities in the EEOC’s strategic enforcement plan in effect through 2021 is eliminating barriers in recruiting and hiring. As such, the agency is focusing its attention on class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities. These include exclusionary policies and practices, steering individuals into specific jobs based on their status in a particular group and restrictive application processes and screening tools.

Some ways to minimize conscious or unconscious bias in hiring is to:

  • Enforce hiring policies that comply with all local, state and federal regulations and equal employment opportunity laws
  • Ensure that job descriptions and advertisements do not contain language that show bias for or against applicants of a particular national origin
  • Treat all applicants fairly and apply a consistent criteria to everyone
  • Train all employees, managers and supervisors on their responsibilities regarding preventing discrimination and harassment
  • Incorporate diversity and inclusion into anti-discrimination policies, practices and training
  • Post your anti-discrimination and harassment policy so it’s visible to all employees and visitors
  • Implement a procedure for reporting complaints of discrimination and harassment and communicate it among all employees
  • Promptly investigate all complaints of recruiting and hiring discrimination
  • Conduct compliance training regularly to increase employee awareness of behavior that may discriminate against individuals based on their national origin and race

Traliant Insight

As we see in the Marquez Brothers case, expecting employees to speak only in Spanish (or only in English) can be a form of discrimination, if the job doesn’t require it. Organizations can reduce the risk of workplace discrimination and harassment claims by reviewing all aspects of the employment process, from recruiting, screening, interviewing, onboarding, promotions and terminations.

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