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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Blacks under scrutiny

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How confident would you be working for a company with virtually no Blacks in upper management, no ongoing diversity training efforts and a poor corporate NAACP rating?

It’s probably safe to assume, that as a minority, you might not feel very secure in your position.

There are allegations from current and former employees of Charter One Bank, a subsidiary of Citizens Financial Group, who feel that they have been unjustly discriminated against. Some claimants feel that because they are Black they’ve been “let go” by the bank, while others who are still employed believe they’ve been denied advancement within the company — despite meeting the necessary skill set for various senior-level positions.

Annie Buchanan is one such person. After two years of employment at Charter One in Indianapolis, her position was “discontinued” — in spite of being a model employee with no disciplinary marks against her.

“I was shocked because when I started at Charter One I was told that I had a chance for advancement. They had a position open twice while I was there and I was not chosen either time,” said Buchanan.

The 56-year-old also said her being passed over two times was disappointing because she had an excess of 30 years’ experience in her respective area — more than the two white women hired for the positions combined.

Buchanan feels strongly that she may have been terminated because of her race and age.

Are such actions towards Black employees the culture of Charter One?

According to a recent Indianapolis Recorder investigation, probably so.

At Recorder press time the investigation uncovered the release of five upper management Black males from two Midwestern states. In addition, research also concluded that there are only two Blacks currently employed at Charter One regionally who are in upper management-level positions. The investigation also found a Michigan-based racial discrimination lawsuit against Charter One that began in 2002.

The Recorder tried to speak with an Indianapolis-based public relations representative of Charter One, but instead was directed to the company’s Midwest representative in Chicago. Understanding the nature of the article, Christine Noel, senior vice president of corporate affairs quickly mentioned Joni Clarke, vice president of community development, as a part of Charter One’s “Indiana leadership.” Ironically, Clarke, who is African-American, was the initial person the Recorder requested to speak with, but was denied.

When asked for Charter One’s corporate demographics regarding age and race, Noel ignored the request. In an attempt to gain a better understanding of the discrimination claims, the Recorder asked Noel several other questions — most were not answered. Instead Noel provided a statement saying that Charter One “believes all employees should be treated with dignity and respect.”

“We are committed to supporting equal opportunity and to providing a workplace free from harassment and other inappropriate workplace conduct,” said Noel.

In 2007 the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 30,510 charges of racial discrimination. Of those, the EEOC resolved 25,882 charges and recovered $67.7 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggravated individuals.

With such a successful 2007, the EEOC strongly encourages anyone who feels they’ve been discriminated against, to contact your local EEOC office, which is the first step in resolving issues.

“As the enforcer of equal opportunity in employment for every member of America’s workforce, present and prospective, EEOC embraces its charge as a matter of social justice and a national economic imperative,” EEOC Chair Naomi Earp said in a previous statement.

The EEOC recently partnered with jazz great Wynton Marsalis to produce public service announcements on workplace discrimination. The 30-second commercials aim to increase recognition and reporting of race discrimination at work by informing

viewers that such actions are against the law.

However, despite awareness efforts, studies show that people who feel they are being discriminated against are oftentimes afraid to report the slightful behavior because of reprecussions.

Tony Kirkland, executive director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission says the main reasons employees may feel “silenced” by their employers, or simply refuse to address the issue is because they fear retaliation, or the impact speaking out may have on their livelihood.

“There comes a point in time when an individual has to make a conscious decision on what he/she needs to do in addressing that issue. Some may not be able to afford to take on that battle,” explained Kirkland. “When you’re taking on that battle and dealing with a situation that may be employee related, it has challenges within itself. If you are filing charges while working there, the fear of retaliation can come up and the fear that there is a possibility of a lost job.”

Kirkland wants people to decrease discrimination instances by adamantly reporting any wrongdoings.

“I’d like to encourage people that if they feel they’ve been wronged, to please take the opportunity to come and talk with someone at the agency.”

Charter One entered the Indiana market in 2003. Since then the company has opened over 65 in-store banking centers.

As far as Buchanan, the woman whose employment was discontinued, she returned to her hometown of St. Louis and is currently looking for stable employment. In the meantime, she has a temporary job substituting.

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