Bloomberg News

Obama’s Bill Would Hinder Work Search by Jobless, Langone Says

October 05, 2011

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Unemployed job applicants would find it harder to get hired under an anti-discrimination provision in President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, according to Home Depot Inc. co-founder Kenneth Langone.

The president’s bill, submitted to Congress on Sept. 12, would allow companies to be sued for discrimination if they exclude unemployed applicants from consideration. Businesses will avoid even meeting with unemployed job-seekers for fear of triggering a lawsuit, Langone said in an interview yesterday with Charlie Rose broadcast on PBS and Bloomberg Television.

“There’s a provision in the jobs bill, if I am unemployed and you give me an interview and don’t hire me, I can sue you for discrimination because you didn’t hire me because I was unemployed,” said Langone. “You know what’s going to happen? They are not going to get the interview.”

Langone, who helped start Atlanta-based Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, had urged New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie to join the Republican contest for president. He endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney yesterday after Christie said he wouldn’t run.

Under Obama’s jobs bill, employers would be prevented from ruling out applications from the unemployed or posting ads that say those without jobs shouldn’t apply. Those who are discriminated against could seek back pay and damages, and enforcement would fall to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Larry Lorber, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Proskauer Rose LLP, said in an interview.

‘Massive Class Action’

“Picture someone who sends something to Monster and doesn’t get called,” he said, referring to Monster Worldwide Inc.’s jobs website. “Theoretically you could have a massive class action.”

Protections are needed to give a fair shake to those without work, especially as unemployment rises, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia said at a September press conference with fellow Democrats supporting legislation similar to the provision in Obama’s bill.

Langone’s concerns are overblown, Andy Phelan, communications director for Johnson, said today in an interview.

“The business community is upset, but it simply keeps them from screening workers out because they’re unemployed,” Phelan said.

Businesses ‘Lose Out’

“Employers are doing themselves a disservice by refusing to consider these workers -- the best candidate for the job may have been laid off because of a downsizing, and a business would lose out on their talent,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said in an e-mail. “All we are asking is that every American be given the opportunity to compete for a job.”

Langone’s comments make no sense because there’s no evidence that banning discrimination would discourage hiring, said David Elliot, a spokesman with the Washington-based USAction, a federation of 22 state affiliates that advocates for human-service programs and support for public education.

“At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of businesses want to do the right thing,” he said in an e-mail. “Probably the overwhelming majority of mid-level managers at Home Depot who actually do the hiring want to do the right thing.”

U.S. unemployment has been at or above 9 percent for 26 of the past 28 months, according to a Sept. 2 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average length of unemployment, seasonally adjusted, rose to 40 weeks in August from 34 weeks in the year-earlier month.

A study of hiring sites Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com and Indeed.com in March and April by the New York-based National Employment Law Project found more than 150 postings saying applicants needed a job. The study didn’t include the number of ads reviewed.

Indeed Inc.’s Indeed.com, a website backed by companies including the New York Times Co. and Allen & Co., on Aug. 25 began adopting measures to block such ads, spokesman Michael Werch said in a September e-mail. Indeed is based in Stamford, Connecticut.

--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net


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