City of Bloomington Expands Affirmative Action Plan

Bloomington Downtown Square

Photo: Flickr.com

Sexual orientation and gender identity are now among the protected classes under the City of Bloomington’s affirmative action plan. But data collection blockades and personal privacy concerns may render the affirmative action plan’s traditional purpose nearly useless, making the policy and the city’s existing anti-discrimination policy redundant.

The city’s 2009 affirmative action plan says that in order to follow federal regulations, the plan must  ensure members of protected groups – like potential gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender employees – are treated fairly in the application process.

In part, that means identifying what problems those employees may face on the road to a job.  Federal guidelines also require the city to detail steps it will take in developing hiring and promotion goals if a disparity becomes apparent.

City Human Resources Director Daniel Grundmann said that requires a kind of statistical analysis which is easier in some cases than others.

“When you rely on self disclosure sometimes it’s obvious. I mean you can tell by looking at me that I have 9 fingers for example,” Gundmann said.

Grundmann said the city will not likely be keeping a count of employees who may identify as GLBT — that’s because of another federally required HR rule — a non-disclosure policy.

“One of the challenges you have in an HR department when you’re looking at affirmative action and you’re coming up with data sheets, the validity and reliability of that data is not so good because we have no way of knowing often times, so that becomes one of the challenges,” Grundmann said.

Grundmann said the city does ask for some demographic information on applications but only about 25 percent of prospective employees choose to offer it.  And while the federal non-disclosure policy allows Grundmann to ask GLBT employees to self-identify as members of a protected minority group, he says keeping count of those few individuals who choose to do so would produce skewed statistics.

But, Grundmann insisted he can confirm anecdotally that the city’s hiring practices are fair in all cases including those in which people identifying as GLBT are involved.

But Helen Harrell, advisor to the GLBT student group “Out,” disagreed — saying she knows of several pending cases under the city’s hiring umbrella relating to GLBT discrimination issues.

“Once you hire someone, that’s just 1/3 of the battle,” Harrell said. “The rest of the battle is them having to put up with on the job harassment daily with suggestive cartoons with slander with property being destroyed.  When you think about all the city jobs it’s not like just working in city hall behind a desk. There’s maintenance people, and engineers and public works and all those things and I do know for a fact, but of course I can’t quote any quick cases, but there is discrimination and there are suits filed and people are harassed, they’re run out of jobs or they’re not hired.”G

But without a detailed analysis, city attorney and Human Rights Commission director Barbara McKinney said that aspect of the city’s 2010 affirmative action plan is, by definition, much the same as policies the city already has in place.

“Affirmative action…can get very complicated and you’re studying work force and figuring out where to recruit if you’re not doing as well as maybe you could,” McKinney said. “We’ve long had the requirement that contractors have affirmative action and its really more of a non discrimination policy really. The plan has to say we don’t discriminate in these categories, we do fair recruitment…so I think the terms are maybe a little loosey-goosey.”

So while it seems this year’s changes to the city’s affirmative action plan make no real policy changes, Harrell said she is always happy to hear of any changes which at least attempt to keep GLBT members of society in mind.

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