Law Offices of Dan A. Atkerson

When Is Affirmative Action Discriminatory?

By Dan Atkerson on December 21, 2015

Woman in an interviewWorkplace discrimination is a cancer in the job market, restricting thousands of potential workers from finding gainful employment. Many federal agencies as well as local employers are taking action to stamp out discrimination where they can.

What Is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action, as it’s called, is when an employer takes steps to encourage and maintain diversity in the workplace. Employers will often offer special training, educational programs, and outreach efforts to try and include underrepresented populations, such as minorities, women, people with disabilities, and veterans.

Affirmative action is intended to level the playing field for people who have historically been hit hardest by discrimination. However, even if an employer’s intentions are fair, affirmative action can sometimes be discriminatory itself if not executed properly.

What Is “Reverse Discrimination”?

Essentially, opposition to affirmative action has long argued that the policy is unfair to “majority” groups because it affords special treatment to minorities. Even though the intention of affirmative action is to prevent discrimination based on race, gender, or disability status, for example, it can sometimes cause the same kind of discrimination against the “majority” groups.

Examples of Affirmative Action Causing Reverse Discrimination

  • A Caucasian male applicant that meets job requirements is not offered the position because the employer wants to hire a minority in order to meet an affirmative action quota.
  • A woman is given a promotion over a man because of her sex rather than qualifications.
  • During a time of economic stress, an employer lays off members of a “majority” group instead of minorities or women in order to maintain workplace diversity.

Examples of Non-Discriminatory Affirmative Action

  • Encouraging more women to apply for a promotion without excluding or disregarding men.
  • Setting up outreach programs to attract women or minorities.
The key takeaway is that affirmative action should be inclusive and not exclusive.

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