In September 2016, Disability Rights New York (DRNY), which provides advocacy, protection, and client assistance to those in need, reported that individuals with disabilities have unemployment rates that are double those of the general workforce and earn less money when they are employed. The organization determined that high unemployment rates among the disabled are not necessarily due to candidates’ inabilities to perform work. Instead, DRNY found that people with visible disabilities may never get the opportunities to prove themselves capable.
DRNY commissioned a study, conducted by labor economist Marc. Bendick, Jr. Ph.D., to measure discrimination that occurs during the hiring process against individuals with visible disabilities affecting mobility. DRNY chose to study the retail industry having concluded that retail stores frequently have openings for positions that “pose very few obstacles for workers with disabilities.”
The study established pairs of applicants and sent them to 91 large clothing, jewelry and accessory retailers in the NYC area. Each pair looked similar to one another in appearance, age, race and wardrobe. Each applicant’s resume listed comparable retail experience, skill, and education, and each received coaching on how to provide equivalent answers to typical interview questions. One candidate in each pair used a cane or wheelchair, and the other had no visible signs of a disability. The candidate with the disability received a slight advantage in her wardrobe and qualifications. The pairs were instructed to apply for open positions at retail stores and participate in interviews.
The results of the study confirmed that the disabled applicants were less likely to receive offers of employment. Those in wheelchairs or using canes were 27% as likely as their partners to receive offers. 41% of the retailers discriminated against disabled candidates who were capable of performing the jobs for which they applied. The study showed that discrimination occurred in various ways including failing to provide reasonable accommodation, failing to make job offers and refusing to grant interviews or otherwise follow-up with disabled applicants.
In its press release, DRNY presented two very different experiences had by a pair of applicants at the same store. These experiences illustrate quite clearly how discrimination may occur during the pre-employment process. The press release stated:
“As an example from the study, a 21-year-old woman in a manual wheelchair presented herself at a retail store of a national chain of casual clothing for younger men and women. She was instructed to apply on-line from home, and that application triggered an invitation to a group interview. After the group interview, she heard nothing from the chain.
Meanwhile, a 22-year-old woman with no mobility limitations presented herself at the same store. The store manager greeted her smilingly, asked her several questions, lent her an iPad to file her application while in the store, instructed her to put down the store manager’s name as the person referring her, and scheduled her for a group interview. At the group interview, the district manager said that she had received the applicant’s information from the store manager and scheduled the applicant for a private interview the next day for a Manager in Training position.”
Retail employers may assume that individuals with disabilities are not capable of performing the job for which they are applying. They tend not to ask pointed questions related to specific job tasks such as whether they can put together an outfit, retrieve different sizes of merchandise for a customer, or help a customer fashionably accessorize.
Elizabeth Grossman of DRNY was not surprised by the results of the study because “It’s extremely rare to see a person with a disability working in a retail store.”
The executive director of DRNY, Timothy A. Clune, provides possible insight into discrimination in the retail industry stating, “Some fashion retailers avoid hiring people with disabilities because they don’t embody the stereotypical image they want to project for their merchandise. This behavior is not only illegal, but it also perpetuates a myopic view of who is attractive in our society.”
DRNY plans to follow up with the retailers who were involved in the study to help them change their policies, behaviors, and perceptions of candidates with disabilities. The organization has “not ruled out litigation.”
Leeds Brown is a full-service employment law firm, representing clients in New York City and the surrounding areas, in workplace discrimination claims. If you have a mental or physical disability and have experienced discrimination during the hiring process or a period of active employment, speak with attorneys at Leeds Brown. We can help determine if you have a claim against your employer and advise you on the best way to proceed to secure your rights. You can reach us 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658.