I-Team: How common is job discrimination?

October 25, 2012 3:09:07 PM PDT
The unemployment rate in North Carolina currently sits at 9.6 percent. The rate is twice as high for African Americans - currently 19 percent.

Is the black unemployment rate related to job discrimination? Some say it is, and ABC11 went undercover to find out.

We used two women to test the theory. Brittany Titus is a recent graduate of NC Central University and is African American. Rosalie Forman is white, and a senior at Duke who will graduate in May. Titus has far more experience in retail and restaurant work than Forman, and theoretically would have a leg up when it comes to getting hired.

We dressed them alike and sent them to three Wake County shopping centers to apply for jobs.

"I was going into it with a very positive view. Like, alright, I already know what's gonna happen. Piece of cake," Titus told us.

The women went to 14 randomly selected stores and restaurants. We had them speak to the managers and locally owned businesses and big national chains.

We sent Titus into the business first, and then an hour later Forman followed.

In many cases, Forman seemed to get a far more eager response from the manager during her initial visit.

"There were times where we talked to the same person and, having compared experiences, I feel like I got preferential treatment," she said.

And the women got a big surprise at a big fast food chain when they talked to an African-American manager. Titus said she basically got the cold shoulder.

"That was probably the biggest shock for me too. The fact that someone of your own skin color would maybe treat you that way over me," she offered.

The women were also given different stories about whether jobs were available. At one restaurant, Titus was told they weren't hiring. But when Forman walked in, the story changed.

"He is revising his staffing plan. He just hired someone, but to apply online, and to give a call on Monday," Forman recalled.

The women's experience came as no surprise to Duke professor Sandy Darity, who studies racial discrimination in hiring.

"I've always been inclined to think of the unemployment gap as an indicator of the degree of discrimination that persists in our economy," he explained.

Darity cited the report titled "Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?" published by the University of Chicago eight years ago. In that study, researchers used names as a mechanism for signaling whether or not somebody should be read as being a black applicant or a white applicant by the employer.

The study found the applicant with the "white-sounding" name was 50 percent more likely to be called back for an interview. In our smaller study, Titus got four callbacks while Forman got seven.

The I-team had Titus and Forman apply online or in person for the jobs they asked about. They then called each business to follow-up within a week. At the end of the experiment, Forman - who has yet to graduate from college - came out on top. She was offered four jobs, while Titus - who graduated six months ago and has a lot of retail experience - only got two.

"It just, I mean, it just hurts, like it does. Knowing that I have to really, really try. Knowing that I'm qualified. Knowing that my mother raised a strong person who knows she can do the job. Who, I graduated school ... you know, high GPA, honors, and everything. And this is how I'm still treated. I never really experienced discrimination like that until, really until now," Titus told us.

"That makes me feel pretty terrible and it's just like, not fair and I just would never want you to feel that way, you know," Forman offered.

The I-Team experiment left Titus doing some soul searching.

"I've never been a quitter. And I will never be a quitter regardless of my color of my skin," she said.

The I-Team asked Professor Darity if job applicants have any legal recourse if they suspect discrimination. He told us it's very hard to document why a person is picked over another applicant.

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