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People's Law Guide


Ethnic & National Origin Bias: EEOC Fails To Use the Most Powerful Law



      Alberto Arriola, a Detroit area engineer of Philippine origin, was among 16 department members laid off during what his employer claimed was a legitimate corporate downsizing. Arriola, 46 years of age when terminated, claimed his employer wanted to purge older workers of Philippine ancestry from its professional staff.

      At trial, testimony revealed that four others of Philippine descent were among those laid off. Witnesses also testified that Durr Industries, Arriola's employer, conducted the layoffs while simultaneously hiring thirty-one younger engineers of European origin. Jurors awarded Arriola $466,800. Mitchell Alfaro, a co-worker also of Philippine origin, joined in the lawsuit and was awarded $889,000. Both men resolved their cases with confidential out of court settlements after Durr Industries filed an appeal.

      By relying on laws other than those utilized by the U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission, Arriola and Alfaro were able to seek emotional pain and suffering damages in excess of those permitted under Title VII, the only law EEOC relies on when handling national and ethnic origin job bias cases.  Had the men based their ethnic discrimination claims on violations of Title VII, EEOC’s exclusive legal remedy, rules would have capped the amount of money awardable for emotional pain and suffering. Title VII limits verdict size for punitive awards and damages for emotional pain and suffering to just $50,000 in cases involving small employers and $300,000 in claims made against large organizations. When verdict size exceeds the permissible Title VII limits, judges are required to cut down the amount of money awarded.   


      Title VII is just one the laws outlawing discrimination for race and ethnic / national origin discrimination. Importantly, Florida's Civil Rights Act and certain non-Title VII federal laws don't limit the amount of money awardable for emotional pain and suffering.  Certain Federal laws don’t place limits on punitive damages. Surprisingly, most South Floridians who file complaints of job bias complaints don’t make use of these other laws. Why? Of the people taking action when discriminated against, nearly all limit their efforts to filing complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC takes action on few cases reported to it and when pursuing claims of discrimination pertaining to race, ethnic origin, race, gender, sexual harassment or religion, it ignores all laws but Title VII.  EEOC's total dependence on Title VII does more than just limit the amount of money recoverable by victims of job bias.  It also forbids the filing of lawsuits by persons working for organizations having fewer than 15 employees. The Florida Civil Rights also deprives legal rights to employees of smaller organizations.

      While persons working for small employers don’t have legal recourse available under Title VII and Florida's Civil Rights Act, other legal options are available. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, enables workers victimized by ethnic origin discrimination to sue employers who have as few as one worker.  Also, section 1981 of the United States Code, another federal law prohibiting bias involving race and national / ethnic origin, offers legal recourse to those working for very small employers. Importantly, many court rulings have liberally defined Section 1981's rules. Now even persons who are not members of racial minority groups may have legal rights under this law.

      The Immigration Reform and Control Act, United States Code section 1981 provisions and the Florida Civil Rights Act can be powerful weapons for employees. All are free of Title VII-type limitations on verdict size. Free of arbitrary limits on verdict amounts, employers fear that verdicts in these cases can exceed their budgets, giving workers who sue under these laws greater leverage when seeking negotiated pre-trial settlements.


      Each year, thousands of people complain to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of job discrimination based upon their national or ethnic origin. Few knew that EEOC acts on only a small number of the complaints it receives. Perhaps even fewer realized that the small number of national origin lawsuits filed by the EEOC rely solely on Title VII's provisions and neglect using other laws capable of increasing verdict size or providing recourse for persons working for employers too small to fall within EEOC’s jurisdiction.  Private attorneys experienced in employment law frequently make use of these other laws.

      The sizable verdicts received by Arriola and Alfaro indicate that their attorney knew the benefits of filing the types of legal claims which don't have Title VII's limitations. 

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