Pepsi Beverages reached a settlement agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in which it will pay $3.13 million and modify its training and hiring processes based on allegations of racial discrimination. An investigation by the EEOC found evidence that Pepsi’s use of criminal background checks during the hiring process had an adverse and disproportionate impact on black job applicants. Under Pepsi’s policy, job applicants who had been arrested pending prosecution were refused job offers, even if they had not been convicted. In addition, Pepsi’s policy denied employment to job applicants arrested or convicted of particular minor offenses. The EEOC found that Pepsi’s policy disproportionately impacted more than three hundred individuals.
This case demonstrates how a policy that is not specifically intended to discriminate may still violate anti-discrimination laws. Disparate impact gives rise to liability where a facially neutral employment practice or policy, that serves no purpose in promoting a legitimate business interest, disproportionately affects employees in a certain protected class. Under this framework, proof of discriminatory animus is unnecessary.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., which was decided just two years after race discrimination in the workplace became illegal, is a prime example. There, the company required job applicants to obtain a high school education or to pass a standardized general intelligence test as a condition of employment. At the time, these requirements disproportionately affected black applicants. In considering whether this policy violated Title VII, the Court stated “the consequence would appear to be directly traceable to race,” noting that blacks “have long received inferior education in segregated schools.” Finally, the Court found that “neither the high school completion requirement nor the general intelligence test is shown to bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the jobs for which it was used.” For these reasons, the policy violated Title VII.
Similar to Title VII, the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act (M.G.L. c. 151B) recognizes disparate impact claims. In School Committee of Braintree v. MCAD, for instance, a female teacher brought a sex discrimination claim under the disparate impact framework. There, the school relied on a policy and denied the plaintiff the ability to use her accumulated sick time during her maternity leave. In sharp contrast, the school had allowed the use of accumulated sick time for reasons other than pregnancy such as Peace Corps work and military service. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found the school’s policy had a disparate impact on women. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed:
Unlike leaves of other kinds, maternity leave possesses an essential character of being medically necessary. During several weeks of maternity leave a woman, by necessity, is physically disabled and incapable of performing her job. No comparable situation exists with respect to men.
The Boston race discrimination lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. specialize in employment law and solely represent employees. If you are a victim of race discrimination, please contact The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. through our website or at (617)973-6434 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More Race Discrimination Blog Posts by The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.:
New York Fish Market Settles Race Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Lawsuit, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (December 28, 2011)
Race Discrimination Claim Filed Against Texas Company Alleging Rampant Use Of Racial Slurs, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (February 7, 2011)
Race Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed Against NASCAR, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (June 26, 2008)