From The Wave: Woman Alleges 'Racial Profiling,' Coding At Woodland Hills Employment Agency

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FROM THE WAVE/Wednesday, October, 6, 1999
WOMAN ALLEGES 'RACIAL PROFILING,' CODING AT WOODLAND HILLS COMPANY

By Frank McRae
Staff Writer

A former sales associate at a major employment agency last week alleged that she was "force to kneel down and scrub carpets" after complaining that the firm steers whites less qualified than minorities into higher paying positions.

In 10 charges contained in a 24-page complaint filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Rachel Cuevas, a Latina and the former associate, also alleged that Woodland Hills-based Thor, Inc., is "guilty of racial coding, race and gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress."

And Cuevas, through Toni J. Jaramilla, her Century City attorney, said the agency's "racial coding" policies and practices are "duly authorized and directed by its officers and directors." Several Thor employees, according to Jaramilla "have confirmed that certain businesses who are clients of Thor's make specific requests that certain minorities not be placed "with their companies.

Jaramilla declined to discuss compensation for her client, or a range of dollars she believes should be awarded given the alleged damages.

Thor officials had not returned calls for comment before Wave presstime, however, the agency's attorney, Ryan McCortney, accused Cuevas of attempting to pull "a stick-up job."

Cuevas' "claims are frivolous," he said. "McCortney is with the Costa Mesa-based firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, LLP.

McCortney, in an interview last Thursday, contended that after looking at all the facts, any reasonable person would come to the same conclusion.

"We will be filing motions to dismiss her entire lawsuit," he added.

Jaramilla, however, said a Superior Court judge has already scheduled a Feb. 28 trial date. In speaking to specifics alleged in Cuevas' complaint, Jaramilla said an investigation of the agency, which has several offices throughout the state, uncovered "codes on minority applications which had nothing to do with their qualifications for employment." The range of codes included "good looking, but ethnic," written by an interviewer on an African American man's application. "Just home from Thailand," was scribbled on another..."nice, no accent," on yet another, and, to describe a Latino, "has green card, been in the U.S. two years, slight accent, but not bad." African Americans, according to the complaint, "were derisively referred to by white employees as 'too ghetto,' and 'fly girl.'"

White applicants, however, were commonly referred to as "apple pie," and "choice job assignments were enthusiastically sought for them," Jaramilla said.

Moreover, when Latinos visited the agency's office to apply for placement, Jaramilla said "supervisors and employees mocked their accents and attire." Cuevas' complaints over the allegedly insulting treatment "fell on deaf ears," according to the lawsuit, and her work environment became increasingly "intimidating and hostile."

When Cuevas complained to her supervisors, according to Jaramilla, they retaliated by slashing her salary from $2,100 a month and bonuses to $1,900 a month, which, she said was far below less qualified white males holding similar positions.

Jaramilla added that one particular white sales representative with fewer qualifications than Cuevas was given a salary of $2,400 a month and bonuses, despite his lack of seniority, expertise and years of experience in the employment placement industry.

Cuevas said she was finally forced to resign by this final act, coupled with the daily oppressive comments regarding members of her race and national origin, Jaramilla said.

Jaramilla said Cuevas was employed by Thor for more than two years, from July, 1996 until the end of September, 1998.

Within months of her resignation Cuevas filed a complaint with the State's Department of Fair Housing and Employment and later received a "right to sue" letter from the agency.