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EEOC data shows more diversity and more discrimination at work

Diversification of the workforce is a priority in many industries in South Florida and elsewhere. Companies both large and small have increasingly sought to hire employees with varied backgrounds, experiences and worldviews.

It is thought that diversity in employee population bring diversity of thought, expansion of knowledge and greater depth in the workplace experience. However, diversity in the workforce also seems to be contributing to a record high in the number of workplace discrimination claims being filed in the United States.

During 2011, nearly 100,000 discrimination complaints were received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Though the EEOC has been operating for almost 50 years, it has never received more discrimination complaints in a single year.

A former counsel for the EEOC attributes the increase in part to the increased diversity of the American workforce. In response to the data, he noted that, "We're seeing a greater diversity among minority groups in America. We're seeing more workers from India, Pakistan and other countries that bring additional religious complexity to the work force."

This diversity brings many benefits to companies as a whole and to employees on an individual level. However, change on any significant level tends to be followed by an adjustment period. Unfortunately, the adjustment period for unprecedented diversity is inspiring discrimination amongst those slow to accept or understand these changes.

As in recent years, sex, race and retaliation-based discrimination claims were filed in the largest numbers. However, marked increases in complaints filed due to discrimination related to national origin and religion were the unique contributions to the 2011 data. Age and disability-based claims also rose last year.

In Florida and throughout the nation, diversity is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Until the benefits of this reality are understood and respected, discrimination claims may unfortunately continue to climb. However, we can at least celebrate the fact that record numbers of employees are speaking out in defense of their rights.

Source: USA Today, "Job bias complaints in U.S. at record level," Jan. 23, 2012

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