Code Words Show Intent to Discriminate

Last July, Area Temps, a Cleveland-based temp agency, agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a discrimination case because it considered, assigned, and rejected job applicants based on their race, sex, national origin, and age. The EEOC found that Area Temps used code words to describe job applicants, such as “chocolate cupcake” for young African American women, “hockey player” for young white males, “figure skater” for white females, “basketball player” for black males, and “small hands” for women. Area Temps did this at the request of its clients by attaching note cards with the descriptive phrases to some of the job applications it received before passing them on for review to the hiring companies.

This case illustrates more than the foolishness of using code words to surreptitiously identify job applicants’ racial and gender backgrounds. Since temp agencies and their clients are often jointly responsible for acts of discrimination, businesses can be sued for the discriminatory acts of a temp agency and should seek contracts with strong indemnification provisions to prevent this from happening. Likewise, temp agencies should never capitulate to the illegal preferences of a client. Regardless of the desire to please a customer, a single act of discrimination as egregious at Area Temps’ can tarnish a company’s reputation permanently.