Employment agencies often discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their names, said researcher Sirithon Thanasombat, who presented the results of a Discrimination Research Center of California study yesterday in Hutchins Hall.

Beth Dykstra
California researcher Siri Thanasombat speaks in Hutchins Hall yesterday regarding research findings showing the evidence of hiring disparities based on names on applications. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

The study, titled “Names Make a Difference,” is the DRC’s third report concerning the temporary employment industry. Between August and November 2003, the DRC sent 6,200 resumes to temporary employment agencies throughout California. Though the resume applicants were fake, they all possessed equal qualifications. The goal of the study was to find out whether identifiably ethnic names on the resumes affected the rates at which the agencies would grant e-mail or telephone responses.

The report states that applicants from some ethnic groups received responses from agencies with greater frequency than white applicants or applicants of other ethnic groups.

The state of Michigan is ranked third in number of complaints in the United States.

“This (report) is a snapshot of employer behavior in the real world today,” said Thanasombat, program coordinator of the DRC. “ And though this study was limited to temp agencies and entry-level positions, stereotypes still come up in legal firms and other upper-level employment.”

The names that were compared in the study derived from five groups: Asian Americans, Latinos, blacks, Arab Americans/South Asians and whites. Response rates from the agencies varied between each of the groups, as well as between men and women in certain groups.

Overall, names that were stereotypically associated with Arab Americans/South Asians and Asian Americans received lower response rates from job agencies than identifiably ethnic names of any other group, suggesting that members of these ethnic groups experience persistent discrimination in employment because of their names Latinos received the highest response rate with 33 percent, followed by whites and blacks with 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Thanasombat speculated on the reasons behind the differences.

“We think the Latinos came out first because it was thought that they had bilingual skills, which is especially important in California,” she said. “The backlash against Arab Americans and South Asians in the aftermath of September 11 could also explain their low response rate.”

The study also concluded that the number of civil rights violations claimed by employees has increased in the last three years, but Asian Americans tended to file lawsuits less often than other groups. Thanasombat said this indicates that employers can and do discriminate against Asian Americans without fear of legal repercussions, which explains the low response rate.

While the average response rate was higher for women than for men in all groups, the gap was particularly evident with Arab Americans/South Asians and whites. But the other groups showed smaller gender gaps. The response rates for black men and women mirrored the statewide rate of 31 percent and Asian American men and women fared equally poorly.

These results indicate that race is a bigger factor in employment discrimination than gender, but that those agencies that look beyond racial lines often discriminate based on gender stereotypes, Thanasombat said.

“It is really scary that this type of discrimination exists,” said Chad Doobay, a Law School student who attended the presentation. “I was surprised by the gender difference — the fact that there is a gender bias just further shows that we have a lot of work to do to achieve equality.”

As an extension of this research, in the future, the DRC plans to use equally qualified pairs of people to explore the different types of employment discrimination in the United States.

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