Last month, we took two big strides toward reducing employment discrimination in America.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued rulings that finally protect some of our country’s most vulnerable job seekers — sexual minorities and people with arrest records.

The first ruling protects transgender individuals from being discriminated against in the workplace.

The second action updates guidance limiting when and how employers can take the criminal history of an applicant or an employee into consideration. The new guideline says that employers cannot treat such history differently on the basis of someone’s race or national origin. And it states that a policy of excluding those with criminal records from employment “may violate the law if it is not job related and consistent with business necessity.”

The unemployment rates for the communities affected by these rulings are shocking. For transgender people, it is a reported 56 percent. Unemployment rates are also in double digits for people who are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system — African-Americans, Latinos, and adults without a high school diploma.

These actions are good news for all Americans. By leveling the playing field for those who are among the most discriminated against in employment decisions, more people will be able to participate in the work force, pay taxes, take care of their families, and contribute to society.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The EEOC recognized that our country has changed greatly over the past 50 years and correctly understood that the statute’s prohibition against sex discrimination must also apply to intentional discrimination based on gender identity.

The commission also grappled with the huge increase in the arrest and incarceration rates among minorities over the last 25 years and the effect this has on employment opportunities once individuals have paid their debt to society. About one in 17 white men are expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime; by contrast, this rate is one in six for Hispanic men and one in three for African-American men. These inequities only magnify the discriminatory barriers already experienced by minorities when they face a job search.

The EEOC initially offered guidance on the use of criminal background checks in hiring decisions in 1987 — before anyone knew what the Internet was and at a time when performing background checks required so much personal attention that the practice was rarely used. Today, there is a huge industry that conducts criminal background checks for employment decisions, and 90 percent of companies engage in the practice. The guidance governing use of criminal background checks desperately needed to be updated to keep pace with the growth of technology, and the EEOC did just that.

The EEOC clearly recognized that the workplace and our country have evolved. Now it’s Congress’ turn.

Congress should pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been introduced in almost every Congress since 1994 and would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It should also address the systemic disparities in our criminal justice system so that everyone has a fair chance at the American Dream.

Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil and human rights organizations. He can be reached at

You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project