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Another Job Placement Agency Is Accused of Bias : Workplace: A former employee charges in a lawsuit that Apple One engages in race, sex and age discrimination.

December 14, 1990|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the latest of a recent spate of bias charges against job placement companies, a former employee of a Glendale-based employment agency charges in a lawsuit that her firm engaged in race, sex and age discrimination.

According to the suit, filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles by a Redondo Beach woman, the Apple One employment agency used a system of hand signals and verbal codes to indicate the race, sex or age of job-seekers.

Apple One denies the charges.

Such charges against employment agencies have been on the rise at the federal level, prompting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to give more priority to job discrimination cases.

The claims against Apple One were brought by Irmgard Durkee, who also accuses the company of discriminating against her on grounds of national origin and religious beliefs. Durkee first made allegations of religious discrimination in a complaint filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in January. The state agency closed the case in October, saying Durkee had not proved her allegations.

In a Dec. 3 lawsuit, Durkee restates allegations that a supervisor tormented her for being Catholic. Durkee, born and raised in West Germany, also contends that she was harassed because of her national origin. She alleges that she was forced to resign from her position as an account executive in December, 1989, because her supervisor assaulted her.

Durkee worked in Torrance, in one of Apple One's 64 California offices. Her suit says the discriminatory code was used among Apple One employees and in their communications with clients.

"For example, a gesture of two fingers on the side of the account executive's cheek identified that the particular applicant was an African-American," the lawsuit alleges. "The phrase 'no shirt and tie' meant no men were to be referred for a position; the phrase 'upbeat' meant that no applicant over the age of 40 was to be considered for the position."

Durkee's lawyer, Raymond D. Green, said his client seeks compensation for loss of income and medical expenses for stress-related illness stemming from alleged incidents at Apple One.

Carolyn Yee, a lawyer for Apple One, said the firm uses no discriminatory code and that Durkee was not victimized. "Discrimination is not something Apple One engages in," Yee said.

The Durkee suit is part of a surge in job-related litigation aimed at employment agencies.

Although Durkee did not file a complaint with the EEOC, that agency has seen a significant increase in recent complaints against employment agencies, a spokesman said. In response, the EEOC earlier this month announced that it will consider job discrimination claims by testers, individuals sent out by civil rights and community groups to detect illegal bias.

"There is a crime wave of employment discrimination across the country, and we need all the help we can get in stamping it out," EEOC Chairman Evan Kemp said recently.

A rise in job bias complaints at the EEOC reflects serious problems on the employment landscape because the U.S. Supreme Court has actually made it more difficult to bring--and win--discrimination suits, said Jack Greenberg, former head of the NAACP Defense and Educational Fund.

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