Does UPS (or any employer) have the right to ask a prospective employee his or her racial origin? Does asking such a question constitute discrimination? Is this action worth $600,000? These are the questions at the heart of a lawsuit filed in January in Portland’s (Oregon) Multnomah County Circuit Court by Kaon-Jabbar East El, a former UPS employee. He claims that the package deliver company violated his Islamic religious beliefs by requiring him to check a box on his employment application about his race.
What happened to prompt this court case?
Kaon-Jabbar East El claims that he was told by the UPS human resources department that he couldn’t attend the new employee orientation unless he checked a box answering the race question. East El self-identifies as a Moor, the nomadic tribe native to North and Northwest Africa. Since there wasn’t an “other” box associated with the race question on the employment form, he checked “Caucasian”, which under a federal directive is defined as people with origins from Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.
East El’s suit claims he was hired by UPS in November 2016 as an on-call truck helper. He claims he repeatedly complained about the racial identifier on the employment form to HR and UPS management, but says he was ignored. He cites his complaints about the form as the reason he was only given one shift in the 2.5 months he worked for the company. He claims he was only given that shift because he has previously told UPS management that he would be unavailable to work that day due to a death in the family. East El resigned in February 2017.
According to “Oregon Live” magazine, UPS declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation, but a company spokesperson emphasized that the UPS workplace is free from all types of discrimination.
Do UPS’ actions constitute discrimination?
While it is up to the Multnomah County Circuit Court to decide, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidelines as to what does and what does not amount to discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits intentional discrimination, which is defines as “occurring when an employment decision is affected by the person’s race”. The EEOC further elaborates that data on race may be collected in the workplace for informational purposes.
Is this a ridiculous lawsuit or a legal action that is past due in coming to the courts? We’ll watch the Multnomah County Circuit Court’s decision with interest.