This is a true story of outright discrimination I experienced when I applied for a job at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH). I attest all information is true as I experienced it.
I applied for a job at NYCDOHMH for a Public Health Advisor position, job reference number JVN 312789. The application process with the City of New York is really very convenient, as you can save your resume and cover letter. It also saves your selection for questions you have to answer for the job requirements, and the optional questions they ask about Race, Disability, etc.
I was contacted by Christal T, a PAA Office Manager for an interview. It would be a phone screening/interview and I was to call at 3PM on Monday to speak with Leonard P. Leonard P is a Field Services Manager for the Field Services Unit. The phone screen seemed to be going well, I had some wonderful answers for his questions, and I was happy detailing my history of working in HIV Prevention, Education, Outreach and more. After about 30 minutes of going back and forth, discussing the position and my abilities he said he needed to ask me a question as it is necessary for the Human Resources department. I was nervous, as I always am in an interview, but felt that our conversation had been going well and was confidant I would have a strong answer for whatever he was going to ask.
The question, however, jilted me and made me feel uncomfortable. “What is your race?” I wasn’t ready nor expecting that. Is it legal to ask such a question in an interview? This person would be a manager of mine if I were to get the job, is he allowed to ask me a question like that? As things were going so well, I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I stated that I am white, non-Hispanic. He took a moment to write the answer down and then told me in a tone completely different from what he had before “Thank you. I want you to know that if you are not selected for this position, you should continue to apply for other jobs with the city.” Did I really just lose this job because I am white. I was stunned. I had a few more questions for him, but he gave me quick non-committal answers and rushed me off the phone. It was over.
I sat replaying the events that happened over and over in my head, a great interview, a wonderful conversation, I suggested some brilliant ideas on making advances in the fight against HIV….and nothing. I got more upset as I thought about it. Everything seemed to go great, right up until he found out I was white. I really don’t think he is allowed to ask me a question about my race like that.
Two hours later, I calmed myself down with a glass of iced tea. I sat down at my computer and wrote an elegant e-mail to Christal, asking her if that questions is common to ask in interviews. However, she never responded. Instead, I received an e-mail from Leonard that read as follows:
“Dear Mr. Gavit,
I hope all is well. In response to your inquiry regarding your interview for the position of Public Health Advisor II, our Human Resources Department requires us to ask every candidate what race they consider themselves and indicate this on our recruitment form. When selecting candidates for interview, we only have access to the resume submitted by potential candidates. I hope that this addresses your inquiry, if you have additional questions, please contact our Human Resources Department.
That was the last thing I received. So, is it legal for the manager interviewing you to ask you your race? Considering that I had already filled out that section in my online application, HR should have that information on file. If that is common practice when hiring for the city, I understand. If the job is specifically to reach people of color, and the management only wants members of the community to apply for those positions, they should make that a requirement when posting the job. As I said, the entire phone screen up until the awkward race question went over amazingly well.
If anyone reading this works for the City of New York Human Resources Department, please feel free to contact me and inform me about your interviewing and hiring practices so that I can update this post. It would be greatly appreciated.
Kevin N Gavit