IDear Workforce-I What's Disparate Impact vs. Disparate Treatment

May 3, 2000

Dear Workforce:

What is the easiest way to understand the difference between Disparate Impact and Disparate Treatment?
-- Karin Jensen-Glick, PHR, HR Development, Colorado

A Dear Karin:

As with any legal questions, keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer, thank goodness. So this is not legal advice.

Disparate treatment is when you treat someone (or a group of people) unfairly in an employment decision because of their race, gender, skin color, religion, or other unlawful reasons. If you have a policy of only hiring male waiters for your fancy restaurant, that could perhaps be considered disparate treatment.

Disparate impact is when you have an employment practice that sounds fair and non-discriminatory, but in reality it weeds out certain groups. If you say "no one with a beard can work here," it sounds fair. But far, far more African-Americans than whites have a skin condition which makes it next to impossible to shave. The end result of your no-beard policy may be the exclusion of a certain group; disparate impact.

SOURCE: Todd Raphael, online editor for Workforce, April 9, 2000

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