Given that the Civil Rights Act is nearly 50 years old, it would be nice to think that racist or otherwise bigoted managers are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it’s just not true. As you’ll see in the following cases, workplace discrimination is alive and well. Rogue managers who practice criminally stupid acts of racist behavior continue to stand in the way of equality. Let’s hope a recap of these stories makes other managers think before they act.
1. City of Brotherly Love … so long as you aren’t black
The manager of a bar in Philadelphia told an employee, “We don’t want black people, we are a white bar!”
That kind of thing might have been commonplace in 1950, but that order was sent via text message in 2010. That ill-advised text got the manager fired, and drove the bar to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit by a former bartender.
The bartender also said he was denied shifts at McFadden’s Restaurant & Saloon because he was African-American. He also claimed McFadden’s tried to discourage black would-be customers from coming in. The bar denied this, but admitted the text was “offensive and reprehensible.” No kidding…
The amount of the settlement wasn’t disclosed. Our best guess: it was probably more than a round of drinks at your next happy hour.
Moral of the story: Barring other races from entering your establishment is textbook racism. Documenting your bigotry in a company text message is equally, if not more, foolish.
2. Stop being so ethnic.
A Native American woman working for a Wisconsin-based staffing agency found that its president wasn’t happy with her ethnic background. According to the EEOC, the president told the employee – whose last name was Red Bear – to change her name, cut her hair and stop “rubbing in” her heritage. The exec also told her she didn’t “fit in” with the community in Ladysmith, WI, where she worked. To add insult to injury he went on to suggest that she seek alternative employment in personal home care which he said was more consistent with the skills of Native Americans.
Can it get more offensive? Why yes, yes it can. Then the company allowed a non-Native American co-worker to refer to herself using the fictitious name “Pink Feather,” allegedly to mock Red Bear.
Moral of the story: Ridiculing anyone’s race or ethnicity is an act of unforgivable intolerance.
photo credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground
3. “I’ve got a delivery for a Mr. Al Qaeda…”
True or false: Supervisors have better judgment than the average employee. (If you’ve read this far, chances are you know where this is going…)
A supervisor at a Houston construction contractor had all manner of colorful nicknames for a Muslim employee. Among them: “terrorist”, “Taliban”, “Osama”…you get the idea.
Was that bad enough? Apparently not. The manager then proceeded to fire the employee. The manager didn’t give a reason for firing the Muslim employee, but we’re willing to take a shot in the dark on why he felt “Osama” had to go…
The discrimination was so blatant that the company agreed to pay the employee $61,250 to settle a discrimination lawsuit, promptly fired the supervisor and banned him from ever working for the company again.
Moral of the story: Clearly not all supervisors deserve the leadership responsibility they’ve been given. Any manager who thinks that abusing an employee based on crude stereotypes isn’t worthy of the authority and trust placed in them.
4. ‘Wait, you’re black? Didn’t see that coming…’
A supervisor at an Idaho-based cosmetics maker told a new hire that just arrived from Britain that he didn’t expect her to be black. The woman, who was hired as a paid intern via phone interviews, was a Briton born in Zimbabwe, southern Africa. When she reported for work, the boss said her race would surprise people, given her citizenship.
A sign of bad things to come? Absolutely.
It didn’t take long for the woman to realize that little act of racism wasn’t a fluke. During the new employee’s time with the company she received little direction and rarely got assignments, despite her requests. In what should come as a surprise to precisely no one, two white interns didn’t face such problems. The EEOC eventually filed a lawsuit and the company agreed to settle the suit for $30,000.
Moral of the Story: No good can come from commenting on employees’ or applicants’ race, sex, age, disabilities, national origin or religion. Even if your intent is completely innocent, you send a message that can easily be interpreted as discriminatory.
If your reaction to this story in any way resembles that of the man in the picture to the left, it’s OK. You’re not alone.
Now, that might not be so bad. For all we know, the supervisor just got back from lunch, had an extra piece of fruit and offered it to an employee. Whatever happened to ‘sharing is caring’?
Well, let’s put it into perspective; The supervisor regularly subjected his assistant, who is a native of Ghana, to slurs such as “monkey” and “gorilla.” He also frequently derided the Ghanaian assistant’s accented English as “gibberish” and made comments such as “go back to your cage,” and “go back to the jungle.”
…Oh. Not such a nice gesture after all.
Like any reasonable person, the employee saw this as grounds for a lawsuit. The EEOC agreed.
NYU says it disciplined the supervisor and he is no longer employed there. Or anywhere else, we hope.
Moral of the story: Even if your managers think it’s just a joke, it can still be horrendously inappropriate and costly to your organization.
So there you have it. We sincerely hope that the lessons learned at the expense of these racist managers don’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this. But on the offchance that they did, we advise you to seek out legal counsel immediately. After all, we’d hate to have to feature you on the inevitable sequel to this list.
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