May 15, 2024 - News

Legal fund helps Asian Americans fight discrimination at work

Photo of six panelists speaking on a panel in a crowded room

From left, moderator Shawna Chen and panelists Ann Lai, Robin Shishido, Vaishnavi Jayakumar, April Moh and Charles Jung speak at an event in San Francisco yesterday. Photo courtesy of Justin Zhu/Stand with Asian Americans

An organization formed in response to a spike in hate crimes during the pandemic is unveiling a new legal fund aimed at defending Asian Americans from workplace discrimination.

Why it matters: Over 1 in 5 Asian adults say they've experienced workplace discrimination because of their race or ethnicity, including being turned down for a job, denied a promotion or fired, per a November analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Driving the news: Stand with Asian Americans (SWAA) is launching a legal fund to help Asian Americans feel empowered to take legal action against workplace discrimination, co-founder Justin Zhu announced Monday at a panel about challenging stereotypes of passivity in the workplace.

  • Funds for the Workplace Justice Initiative (WJI) will enable an in-house team of civil rights attorneys to offer representation to individual plaintiffs while also seeking to establish legal precedents to formally recognize and condemn anti-Asian discrimination in the workplace.
  • SWAA, which recently kicked off fundraising for the WJI, aims to demystify the legal process for Asian Americans, according to SWAA communications adviser Jack Song.

What they're saying: Though racial slurs are not as common as they were in the workplace, Asian Americans often face "coded language," civil rights attorney Charles Jung told Axios at the panel. That includes tropes and stereotypes used to "undermine Asian Americans."

  • "There's this tightrope that we have to walk" —  if you're collaborative you're not leadership material, but if you take initiative you're "too aggressive," said panelist Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a policy adviser who worked in Big Tech.
  • Jung said the work done by WJI will show that "actually you need to honor our civil rights."

State of play: SWAA is one of several Bay Area groups that formed to combat anti-Asian hate during the pandemic.

Yes, but: Workplace discrimination is often difficult to report and resolve since the burden of proof is on employees.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove a description of Stand With Asian Americans as a local organization.

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