Dish Network Dealing With Government Probe on Internet Hiring

The satellite TV company is fighting a subpoena issued by the EEOC.
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Charlie Ergen, co-founder and current chairman of Dish Network.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has gone to a federal court in Colorado and is making clear that it has its sights on investigating how online hiring software impacts employment practices. Satellite TV giant Dish Network is caught in the cross-hairs of the investigation and is resisting subpoenas.

In papers submitted earlier this month, the government agency tells the court what it is up to.

"This charge is not the prototypical charge of yesteryear," says a memorandum in support of enforcing administrative subpoenas. "Instead, this charge, unlike the charges of the past, names on its face a computer program, (in this case an electronic application), widely used by DISH, as the alleged root of the problem -- it does not point the finger at individual, localized or discretionary management practices as was more historically common."

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The EEOC continues by saying that "in this increasingly digital era, employers’ hiring practices have unquestionably changed. Millions of workforce applicants are impacted by online applications every year as these become the dominant, indeed often times the only, mode for obtaining work. Thus, as employers’ hiring practices have evolved, so too has the EEOC needed to adapt and tailor its investigations in order to respond to today’s emergent business practices."

What seems to have triggered the investigation and the issuance of two administrative subpoenas was a complaint filed by George Stewart, who attempted to apply for a position as a customer service representative. The man didn't get too far in the online application process before being presented with the following: "DISH is a 7 day a week customer service center. Most employees will be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Are you available to work these types of shifts?"

Stewart answered "no" because he has epilepsy and is unable to work late at night at the risk of increasing his probability for seizures. After answering in the negative, the application process terminated. According to the EEOC, "Dish has no alternative procedures for applying for a CSR position and states that it will not hire anyone who does not complete the online application."

In a position statement that was submitted in response to the EEOC, Dish Network disputed some of that.

"Mr. Stewart did have three available options to engage in the interactive process regarding his concerns in this area," wrote the company. "We allow and accommodate walk-in applicants and receive many each day."

Kate Gold, an employment attorney at Drinker Biddle & Reath, says the EEOC's strategic plan for the next few years indicated that the agency was intending to investigate class disparity barriers in recruitment and hiring, identifying the use of background checks as an example, although she says this is the first time she's heard of a company being served with administrative subpoenas over an online application process. She says, "Employers should expect to see more of them."

Twitter: @eriqgardner