EEOC Investigating Dillard's Promotions

EEOC Investigating Dillard's Promotions
Dillard’s headquarters at 1600 Cantrell Road in Little Rock.  (Stephanie Dunn)

Dillard’s Inc.’s resistance to a long-running race discrimination investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proved futile: A federal judge has ordered the Little Rock retailer to turn over contact information so that hundreds of past and current employees can be surveyed.

The investigation began in 2011, but it came to a head this year when Dillard’s failed to turn over documents and information the EEOC subpoenaed in February.

In an unusual move, the EEOC in May asked the U.S. District Court in Little Rock to enforce the subpoena, which sought contact information for current and former employees and information related to Dillard’s executive development program.

Dillard’s handed over several documents and information but not the ones that the EEOC had requested.

Last month, U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. ruled that the EEOC could receive the information. The EEOC plans to send 500 questionnaires to former employees and 300 to current ones to investigate the possibility of discrimination in promotions by Dillard’s in its retail stores. Judge Marshall said in his order that the mailing of the questionnaires should move forward and a status report is due by Jan. 6.

The documents and the hearing transcript filed in the case allowed Arkansas Business to get a peek inside the investigation, which started five years ago when a black employee at a Little Rock Dillard’s location alleged that she wasn’t promoted because of her race. She also alleged that Dillard’s wasn’t promoting black workers into management positions.

The investigation revealed that Dillard’s operates an executive development program that recruits recent college graduates from around the country, according to a statement by Katharine Kores, the district director of the Memphis District Office of the EEOC, that was included in the court filing.

After about five months, Dillard’s automatically places the recruits into a position steered toward management or supervisory positions. “The investigation shows that [Dillard’s] has selected only one Black college graduate for this internship program during the past eight years,” Kores said in the statement.

In 2015, the EEOC asked Dillard’s for employee contact records for all of Dillard’s black employees for all of its locations nationwide dating back to July 2010. Dillard’s has more than 270 stores, and the request would have covered 40,000 current and former employees. The EEOC then issued a subpoena in February.

In a February pleading in response to the subpoena, Steven Moore, an attorney representing Dillard’s, argued that the request was overly broad and irrelevant and was made “in order to fish for a discriminatory practice that simply does not exist.”

A hearing on the subpoena was held in August. Pamela Dixon, an attorney for the EEOC in Little Rock, said she’s only tried to enforce a subpoena three times in the 17 years she’s worked for the agency. “I’ve only been to court once and this is it,” she said.

She also said that the EEOC didn’t have to tell Dillard’s why it wanted the information, but it did.

“We’re seeking information in order to determine if Dillard’s nationwide has a promotion practice of a tap on a shoulder that favors whites over blacks, and without the data that we’re seeking today, we can’t make that determination,” Dixon said.

Dillard’s has denied the allegation of wrongdoing.

“Specifically, there is no evidence of a ‘pattern or practice’ that could possibly lead to the conclusion that black employees are systematically discriminated against as a protected group,” Moore, the attorney for Dillard’s, said in a 2013 letter to the EEOC that was included in the case file. He said the case is futile and should be dismissed.

“In short, Dillard’s promotion policy can be described as having both objective and subjective components, under which the Company relies on its local and regional departments to identify the most qualified candidate for each position within the Company,” Moore wrote. “In practice, management implements this policy to promote the ‘most prepared candidate,’ regardless of race (or any other protected class).”

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