Archive for July, 2009

Musing on discrimination in private employment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 limits discrimination in the private sector. At first glance it seems like a reasonable blanket law with no problems, but consider Hollywood. How does it get around the fact that it must discriminate in hiring actors to fit certain roles? Then consider a more subtle case of an ethnic restaurant looking for a chef or a front-desk worker.

The second issue is, if you want, you can always structure your hiring criteria to select the group you want statistically and not violate the letter of the law. In other words, you can find proxies: language ability for national origin perhaps, experience for age, so on and so forth. Unless all forms of discrimination are banned (including things like height, weight, image, etc. — and why not?), there are always correlated variables.

It seems like without genuine bottom-up cooperation, laws won’t amount to much without becoming unreasonably draconian.