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Discrimination During a Job Interview

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You were ecstatic. You sent your resume out and a company that sounds wonderful called to schedule an interview. You and the company rep had great rapport over the phone, but in person something’s different. The rep’s very unfriendly and dissuades you from applying for the position. You leave wondering what went wrong. Was race a factor? Were you the victim of discrimination during a job interview?

Know Which Interview Questions Are Illegal to Ask

A major complaint ethnic minorities have about racism in contemporary America is that it’s more likely to be covert than overt. That means a prospective employer isn’t likely to say outright that your ethnic group needn’t apply for a job at that company. However, a prospective employer might ask interview questions about your race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital/family status. But asking about any of these matters is illegal, and you’re under no obligation to answer them.

Mind you, every interviewer who poses such questions may not do so with the intention of discriminating. The interviewer may simply be ignorant of the law. In any case, you can take the confrontational route and inform the interviewer that you’re not obliged to answer such questions or take the non-confrontational route and avoid answering the questions by changing the subject. Some interviewers who do intend to discriminate may be aware of the law and savvy about not directly asking you any illegal interview questions. For example, instead of asking where you were born, an interviewer might ask where you grew up and comment on how well you speak English. The goal is to prompt you to disclose your birthplace, national origin or race. Once again, feel no obligation to respond to such questions or comments.

Interview the Interviewer

Unfortunately, not all companies that practice discrimination will make proving the case this easy for you. The interviewer might not ask you questions about your ethnic background or make insinuations about it. Instead, the interviewer might treat you hostilely from the outset of the interview for no apparent reason or tell you from the start that you wouldn’t be a good fit for the position. Should this happen, turn the tables and begin to interview the interviewer. If told you wouldn’t be a good fit, for example, ask why you were called in for the interview then. Point out that your resume hasn’t changed between the time you were called in for the interview and showed up to do it. Ask what qualities the company seeks in a job candidate and explain how you line up with that description.

It’s also worth noting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that “job requirements… be uniformly and consistently applied to persons of all races and colors.” To boot, job requirements that are applied consistently but not important for business needs may be unlawful if they disproportionately exclude individuals from certain racial groups. The same is true if an employer requires workers to have educational backgrounds that don’t directly relate to job performance. Take note if your interviewer lists any job requirement or educational certificate that seem non-essential to business needs.

When the interview ends, be sure that you have the full name of the interviewer, the department the interviewer works in, and, if possible, the name of the interviewer’s supervisor. Once the interview wraps up, note any off-color remarks or questions the interviewer made. Doing so could help you notice a pattern in the interviewer’s line of questioning that makes it clear that discrimination was at hand.

Why You?

If discrimination factored into your job interview, identify why you were targeted. Was it just because you are African American, or was it because you are young, African American and male? If you say that you were discriminated against because you are black and the company in question has a number of black employees, your case won’t look very credible. Find out what separates you from the pack. The questions or comments the interviewer made should help you pinpoint why.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Suppose that salary comes up during the interview. Clarify with the interviewer if the salary you are being quoted is the same anyone with your job experience and education would receive. Remind the interviewer how long you’ve been in the workforce, the highest level of education you’ve attained and any awards and accolades you’ve received. You might be dealing with an employer who isn’t averse to hiring racial minorities but compensates them less than their white counterparts. This, too, is illegal.

Testing During the Interview

Were you tested during the interview? This could constitute discrimination if you were tested for “knowledge, skills or abilities that are not important for job performance or business needs,” according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such a test would also constitute discrimination if it eliminated a disproportionate number of people from a minority group as job candidates. In fact, employment testing was at the root of the controversial Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano, in which the City of New Haven, Conn., threw out a promotional exam for firefighters because racial minorities overwhelmingly did poorly on the test.

What Next?

If you were discriminated against during a job interview, contact the supervisor of the person who interviewed you. Tell the supervisor why you were a target of discrimination and any questions or comments the interviewer made that violated your civil rights. If the supervisor fails to follow up or take your complaint seriously, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and file a charge of discrimination against the company with them. In 2008, this federal agency received 33,937 charges of race discrimination, resolving 83% of the cases.

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