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by Aman Singh Das | February 07, 2011


Ever watched the ABC show What Would You Do?

Last week, the show's target was human resources. Here's how the segment went:

Two female job applicants: We'd like to fill out job applications. (One of them uses sign language to communicate)
Barista manager: Are you both deaf?

One of the job applicants: Yes
Barista manager: I'm sorry; I don't think I will be able to hire you.

Job applicant: Why?
Barista manager: Because you're deaf! What if I need to call out orders or need you to do something quickly? I don't know how it would work for a busy coffee shop.

Job applicant: Are you really saying you won't hire us because of our disability?
Barista manager: You're welcome to fill out the application but I just don't think it's going to work. I'm sorry.

While all three were actors, no-one else in the store was, and the show used hidden cameras to zoom in on reactions from people who were listening in while waiting for their coffee. Some chose to ignore, while others just shook their heads in disbelief.

But once the job applicants left the store, two individuals—not actors, both of whom "work in HR"—gave the manager some unsolicited advice based on what they'd just witnessed.

The cumulative words of wisdom of two HR professionals? You should never say something discriminatory. Note the emphasis on "say".

The reason, according to these two: "The laws are so tight today that you cannot say that [their disability disqualifies them from being hired]. They will sue you before you know what happened."

So: You shouldn't discriminate because it might lead to a lawsuit. Not because it's wrong.

If you're still doubtful that these two were advising the "manager" how to cover his tracks, check out their final word of advice: "Just say you'll review the application and get back to them. Once they leave, write 'not fit'."

And there you have it: How to discriminate against someone without them ever knowing it (or, more importantly, being able to prove it).

Last month, In Good Company questioned whether high unemployment was actually driving workplace discrimination. Case in point: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) most recent report that cited nearly 100,000 new charges of discrimination were filed against employers during fiscal year 2010.

The same report stated that the "largest increase was from people who said they had been discriminated against because of a disability."

Now rewind to a couple of weeks ago when Vault Producer Phil Stott reported on a Huffington Post piece that raised an equally disturbing question.

(What do you think of the AOL-HuffPo acquisition? Take our poll)

He wrote:

According to sources quoted in the piece, "there are more secretive and systemic forms of hiring discrimination." And if the words "secretive and systemic" evoke images of spies embroiled in cloak and dagger operations, then you're not too far from what HuffPo claims is the truth—companies using "codewords for whites and codewords for blacks," or to specify whether an employer is seeking a male or female for any given position.

So, is this televised exchange then just more evidence of the real factors at work within our erstwhile HR departments? Are we continuing to rampantly discriminate behind the scene while complying with the law on paper?

Is this the reality that we must accept? One that puts the premium on perceived abilities than qualifications?

Of course, there is the oft-quoted case of "our business needs must come first" but there's also an equal if not greater case for "the future of my business depends on my employees." Fortunately in this case no one was really affected, but can we really confidently say similarly veiled rejections aren't taking place across the corporate landscape?

Leave a comment, email In Good Company or connect with us @VaultCSR.


Filed Under: CSR

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