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Public service employers discriminate against African Americans

The results of a research collaboration between the University of Southampton and the Institute for the Study of Labor show that libraries, school districts and sheriff offices across the country are less likely to reply to requests for information if the requesters' names sound African American. People seeking information in New York might be surprised that there is a significant difference.

The researchers carried out a correspondence study, which is a favorable approach to detecting discrimination. They sent emails to 19,079 local public offices across the United States to request information such as required school enrollment documentation and office opening hours. The public offices that they targeted included county treasurers, county clerks, job centers, local libraries, school districts and sheriff offices in each state. They signed the emails with two names that were distinctively recognized as African American and two that sounded Caucasian.

The study found that while 72 percent of the requests with white names received responses, 68 percent of those with black names did. There was a seven percentage point difference in the number of responses sent from sheriff offices, whereas there was a statistically insignificant difference from job centers and county clerks. The racial discrimination extended to the tone of the responses as well, with 66 percent of the responses to emails with black-sounding names including a salutation or the signed names. Of the responses to emails with white-sounding names, 72 percent had a cordial tone.

While people could experience racial discrimination in many aspects of their lives, their jobs are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar state laws. Employers are required to ensure that workplace conditions are non-discriminatory. If they do not, they could be held liable for the financial and emotional damages that any discriminatory acts have caused to their employees. Those who believe that they have been the victims of unlawful workplace discrimination may wish to discuss their situations with an employment law attorney.

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