In a study commissioned by Disability Rights New York, this pair of testers applied for jobs at New York fashion retail stores. Credit: Disability Rights New York

It was an anti-discrimination sting operation.

Two people, with similar résumés and appearance, applied for the same sales jobs at New York fashion retail stores. One of them used a cane or wheelchair, while the other had no visible disability. The one with a disability even got an advantage – a slightly better résumé and more professional-looking outfit.

What happened?

Testers with disabilities were much less likely to get a job, according to a study commissioned by Disability Rights New York.

Out of 31 tests, 20 of the people without disabilities got an interview or other positive response, compared with 10 of the testers with disabilities. After the interview process, 11 testers without disabilities got job offers, compared with three people with disabilities.

“It’s very disheartening,” said Elizabeth Grossman, of Disability Rights New York. But, she said, it wasn’t surprising: “It’s extremely rare to see a person with a disability working in a retail store.”

The advocacy organization isn’t naming the stores that failed its experiment, but will follow up privately, Grossman said, to “encourage them to change their behaviors.” She didn’t rule out litigation.

Grossman said her group focused on fashion sales positions because they don’t involve heavy lifting or other impediments, making them “particularly easily done by people with mobility disabilities.”

Neither the Retail Council of New York State nor the United States Fashion Industry Association responded to requests for comment.

Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has 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 have 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. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.