CAIR-Chicago Efforts lead to EEOC Officially Recognizing “Arab” as Race

After more than a year of CAIR-Chicago raising the issue, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finally agreed to recognize “Arab” as a race on October 4, 2011.

The ironic part of this success story is that “Arab” was already legally recognized as a race more than two decades ago. Yet the EEOC’s Chicago District Office had failed to properly change procures to reflect this form of discrimination until now.

In 1987, in Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, the U.S. Supreme Court officially recognized Arab ancestry as a basis for a race discrimination claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1870. However, many times that CAIR-Chicago had filed a charge alleging workplace race discrimination against an Arab individual, an EEOC in-take representative told us that the office “coding” did not recognize “Arab” as a race and that the charge must instead reflect the individual’s national origin.

Refusing to amend what was statutorily and judicially proper, CAIR-Chicago Litigation Director Kevin Vodak contacted the EEOC several times explaining the importance of classifying “Arab” as a race and insisting that they accept the charge as it was. Failure to properly identify “Arab” as a race classification, he explained, can result in a re-labeling of the individual’s race as “White,” and consequently make their discrimination claim more difficult to prove.

Just last week, the EEOC headquarters in Washington, D.C. issued an apology letter to Vodak for the improper classifications and assured him that steps have been taken to prevent further problems. It added that their Chicago office has been specifically instructed to accept the charges as written with “Arab” categorized as a race. It also promised that it will address this issue with all of their intake supervisors around the country to ensure that the problem has been resolved on a nationwide basis.

The problem with classifying the charge according to national origin, Vodak explains, is that many employees who report discrimination have been faced with derogatory comments that are not specific to a particular country of origin. Instead, comments in the workplace are more often associated with stereotypical views of the Arab World as a whole. A Palestinian, for example, might be subjected to comments like “terrorist,” “bin Laden,” “Arab,” or “sleeper cell,” but not necessarily mention anything specifically about Palestine. In cases like these, it is important that individuals have available to them both the race and national origin claims to which they are statutorily entitled.

“We are pleased with the EEOC’s willingness to work with us and look forward to seeing these changes implemented in the coming months,” Vodak said.