Canon Agrees to Payout in O.C. Job Bias Probe
In one of the largest settlements of alleged discrimination in hiring by a federal contractor in California, Canon Business Machines has agreed to pay as much as $633,000 to 30 blacks, a Latino and a white woman who were denied jobs for which they were qualified, federal officials said Wednesday.
The U.S. Labor Department reviewed Canon’s hiring records for 1992 and found that 1,732 job applications were submitted, including 100 from blacks. The Costa Mesa-based unit of giant Canon Inc. of Japan eventually hired 96 people that year, but not a single black person was offered employment, investigators said, even though 30 clearly met job requirements.
“This is a significant settlement,” said Leonard Bierman, deputy director of the Office of the Federal Contract Compliance Programs in Washington. “You had 30 people qualified enough to have been hired, but they didn’t get the fair share.”
Canon Business Machines, which employs about 550 people, agreed to the settlement without asking for a hearing or admitting to having discriminated against the applicants.
News of the incident not only angered some in the African American community, it also dismayed those representing Japanese-owned corporations in the United States, which have come under stinging criticism in recent years for allegedly discriminating against minorities and women in hiring and promotions.
“I don’t know how a large company like Canon can discriminate. I couldn’t believe it,” said Bill Kita, executive director of the Japanese Business Assn. of Southern California, which has 620 member firms.
“We have had problems at Japanese-owned firms, and obviously this is an indication,” said Angel Luevano, director of operations at the Office of the Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ regional office in San Francisco.
Federal official Bierman said Canon’s case represents the biggest employment discrimination settlement involving a Japanese-owned contractor to the U.S. government in the past two years.
However, Luevano and other Labor Department officials emphasized that there is no data to suggest that Japanese-owned companies are violating equal employment rules more than other corporations. The last time the agency studied the issue was in 1991, when Congress held hearings on allegations of job bias by Japanese-owned firms based in the United States. In that study, the agency found that the violation rate was about the same as at other businesses.
Nonetheless, critics cite a number of private lawsuits filed in Southern California and elsewhere as evidence that a problem persists. The allegations against Canon, a maker of copiers and cameras with annual revenues of $16 billion, are the latest example, critics said.
“It’s obvious that they discriminated, and I’m delighted the Department of Labor has taken punitive action,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame), who chaired the subcommittee that held the hearings in 1991.
Canon Business Machines was closed this week for a companywide vacation, and its executives could not be reached for comment. Russell Marchetta, a spokesman for Canon USA, said he did not have enough information to comment about the case. In general, he said, Canon and its subsidiaries are equal opportunity employers. “Our hiring policy is the law of the land,” he said.
The investigation, which began in March, was carried out by the Labor Department division that enforces equal employment at all companies that do business with the government. Canon Business Machines sells copy machines to the federal government. The probe by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs was part of a routine inspection.
Al Padilla, the Labor Department official who oversaw the investigation, said Canon Business Machines argued that the black applicants were not qualified. But “we proved they were qualified,” Padilla said, “and in many instances the blacks were better qualified.”
Kita of the Japanese Business Assn. said most Japanese-owned U.S. businesses are acutely aware of the importance of fair employment and are trying their best to be responsible employers.
Though Kita said he was unfamiliar with the Canon case, he expressed concern that it could tarnish the image of all Japanese-owned companies and the economic benefits they have brought, such as tens of thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs. “It worries me, all right,” he said.
George Williams, president of the Orange County Urban League, an advocacy group for blacks and other minorities, said he was not entirely surprised by the Canon incident. Over the years, he said, he has made a number of job referrals to Canon Business Machines, but none were answered.
Williams said a few Japanese-owned firms in Orange County are making a strong effort to hire minorities. But they are the exception, he said. In general, he said, “they’ve been unresponsive.”
Under the Canon Business Machines settlement, the company agreed to pay the 30 African American applicants--plus one Latino man and one woman, both of whom were denied engineering jobs--amounts ranging from several hundred dollars to $70,000. The payment represents the wages they would have earned through July had they been hired, minus what they earned at other jobs during that time.
In addition, Canon agreed to offer employment to 14 of the black applicants as well as the two others. But several of those in the group of 30 said they would not accept the offer.
Kevin Dixon applied for a job as a materials handler at Canon in 1992, when he arrived in Orange County from recession-battered Colorado in search of work.
“At that time, I needed a job desperately,” the 36-year-old Anaheim resident said. Dixon said he went to Canon and filled out an application. “The individual I handed the application to kind of looked at me and said, ‘They’ll be in contact.’ ”
But Dixon never heard anything. “It hurts, you know,” Dixon said. “I thought my qualifications were very good, and they said they were hiring.” Later that summer, Dixon found a part-time job at a Ralphs supermarket in Compton, where he is still employed.
Danny Barnett, 31, another former Canon applicant who is entitled to payment and has been offered a job at Canon, said he will think long and hard about whether to accept the position. “I want to take it,” said Barnett, who is unemployed. “I don’t hate the company, but they might treat me bad.”