When temp agencies fill orders for a worker of a certain race or gender, that’s illegal. So some use code words like “vanilla cupcake,” “country boys” or “blue eyes” to hide the discrimination. (Hint: Those are all codes for white workers.)

This segment digs into one staffing agency with branches across the South, where former employees said some clients demanded white workers. Others wanted Latinos.

Reveal’s Will Evans talked to dozens of former employees of Automation Personnel Services, who told him that this type of discrimination was common. Recruiters, office managers and sales reps from six states said Automation often would send out temp workers based not on their experience or skills – but because of their race, age or gender.


  • Read: When companies hire temp workers by race, black applicants lose out
  • Interactive: Can you guess how certain code words were used?

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Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Will Evans was a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee.