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Talk about a new Europe. This month a directive on race discrimination takes effect across the European Union. The end of the year will see similar measures governing bias on the basis of sexuality or religion. And with the advent of American-style civil rights in Europe may come new opportunities for employment lawyers. The directives, requiring each member state to pass legislation, were approved by the EU three years ago after a surge in support for Austria’s Jorg Haider and other far-right politicians who scapegoat minorities. Activists hope that the new laws will help Europe’s unemployed Muslims, as well as the millions of Rom (gypsies) in Central Europe who will become EU citizens next year. Some lawyers argue that this is both good social policy and good business. As Europe’s labor force rapidly ages and shrinks, they reason, companies must reach out to groups that have traditionally been excluded. “Look at the Algerians in France, the Moroccans in Spain, and the Turks in Germany,” says Makbool Javaid, head of the 26-lawyer equality and diversity practice group at London’s DLA. “Barriers to minorities entering the workforce need to be removed if Europe is to compete on the global stage with the U.S.” Robert McCreath, a partner in the human resources group at London’s Eversheds, predicts that demand for employment litigation and counseling will grow, especially in continental Europe, where there were few pre-existing discrimination laws. Javaid agrees — and he’s already helped several clients take proactive action. Barclays Capital Ltd., for instance, has mounted a campaign to hire underrepresented groups. Ford Motor Company — which, like other U.S. clients, hopes its experience with diversity will give it an edge in the new Europe — has designed special facilities for disabled workers in Bordeaux and training courses for Turkish workers in Cologne. A sex discrimination directive has already been on the books in Brussels for two generations, and has been interpreted broadly by the European Court of Justice since the seventies. Drawing on this tradition, the new set of discrimination directives go well beyond American law as it is currently interpreted. Once a European plaintiff shows a prima facie case of discrimination, it’s up to the defendant to carry the burden of proof. The new directives forbid neutral laws that even potentially have a substantially disparate impact on minorities. And Europe definitely permits affirmative action. One limitation is that while Europe’s race directive bars bias in every context — including housing — the other directives deal only with employment discrimination. Logically, the most direct way to stop an aging labor force from shrinking is to ban age discrimination. But, thanks to business lobbying, the EU’s directives on age and disability don’t kick in until 2006. The aged and the disabled are the plaintiffs who really scare employers, because American experience shows their lawsuits to be the most costly. Perhaps by the time the last set of civil rights are phased in, employers will see them too as an opportunity.

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