Worker injury: Was racism the cause?

by on November 21, 2011 · 25 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
court-ruling-260x172

Based on the facts presented in the scenario below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment-law case?

Stan Mikelski groaned a little as he turned to get comfortable in his hospital bed. His supervisor, Carl Benson, who was visiting, winced in sympathy.

“It’s OK, Carl,” Stan said. “The hip feels a lot better than when I broke it two weeks ago. And I appreciate you coming to see me.

“But I would’ve appreciated it even more if you’d taken my beefs about Grover Smith seriously,” Stan added. “He let that steel coil roll onto me on purpose. If you’d listened when I said he was a racist who hated all whites, he wouldn’t have been in a position to hurt me.”

On purpose, or not?
“You don’t know he did it on purpose,” Carl said. “He said he just released the mechanism too early, before you were out of the way.”

“Well, I think the guy who was always giving black power salutes, and staring me and the other whites down, and saying he’d kill anybody who called him the n-word, is a guy who wouldn’t hesitate to drop a coil on a white guy,” Stan said.

“Grover is rude to everyone, black or white,” Carl said. “Did you ever see him talk nice to Sam Hines?

“He doesn’t talk to Sam the way he talks to the white guys,” Stan insisted.

“Look,” Carl said, “even if you’re right — and I’m not saying you are — our policy says you’re supposed to bring complaints about harassment to the plant manager or HR. You never did. I’m only a line boss, and I can’t discipline anybody.”

“You still should have done something,” Stan said.

Later, Stan sued the company for subjecting him to a racially hostile environment. Did he win?

The decision
No, Stan didn’t win. The federal courts said his case had two fatal flaws:

  1. He couldn’t prove that Grover, his black co-worker, injured him on purpose, so he couldn’t use the injury as proof of a hostile environment.
  2. He didn’t comply with company policy on reporting the prior incidents of alleged racial hostility. The written policy said he should report such matters to the plant manager or HR, not a line supervisor like Carl with limited authority.

So there you have it. Stan’s evidence of racial discrimination didn’t hold up in front of a judge. Agree? Disagree? Keep the discussion going in the comments!

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25 Comments on This Post

  1. Mary Turner
    November 21, 2011 - 1:09 pm

    The supervisor needs senstive hears and evelate the concerns of racism, not just give his employee lip service. I think the court will find in favor of the defendant, if the claim of a hostile work environment was supported by witnesses and documented.

  2. Mary Turner
    November 21, 2011 - 1:09 pm

    The supervisor needs senstive hears and evelate the concerns of racism, not just give his employee lip service. I think the court will find in favor of the defendant, if the claim of a hostile work environment was supported by witnesses and documented.

  3. Jnelson
    November 21, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    From what has been presented, I’m not sure how the court would rule.  There are things that could be used for the employee’s case as well as items that would (I think) fall to the employers favor.

  4. Jnelson
    November 21, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    From what has been presented, I’m not sure how the court would rule.  There are things that could be used for the employee’s case as well as items that would (I think) fall to the employers favor.

  5. KT65
    November 21, 2011 - 1:40 pm

    If he reported the incident to his lead or supervisor, the supervisor should have reported to management on his behalf.  There is a chain of command and he was following it.  Company will be held responsible for the hostile work environment and probably liable for the injury as well.

  6. KT65
    November 21, 2011 - 1:40 pm

    If he reported the incident to his lead or supervisor, the supervisor should have reported to management on his behalf.  There is a chain of command and he was following it.  Company will be held responsible for the hostile work environment and probably liable for the injury as well.

  7. Linda
    November 21, 2011 - 1:42 pm

    I think there was racial  harrassment and the company fell down on their harrassment policy.
    I do believe the court will agree.

  8. Linda
    November 21, 2011 - 1:42 pm

    I think there was racial  harrassment and the company fell down on their harrassment policy.
    I do believe the court will agree.

  9. Groby
    November 21, 2011 - 1:44 pm

    The line supervisor should have taken action as soon as a complaint was made.  He should have sent the complaint to his manager, so that HR and Management could have investigated what was happening and taken appropriate action.  This supervisor placed his company in a position to have a very expensive action against them.  Even if they are found innocent on the charges, the cost to defend themselv es or settle out of court can be astronomical.

  10. Groby
    November 21, 2011 - 1:44 pm

    The line supervisor should have taken action as soon as a complaint was made.  He should have sent the complaint to his manager, so that HR and Management could have investigated what was happening and taken appropriate action.  This supervisor placed his company in a position to have a very expensive action against them.  Even if they are found innocent on the charges, the cost to defend themselv es or settle out of court can be astronomical.

  11. Mdow
    November 21, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    It doesn’t sound like he had any documentation to support his accusation.

  12. Mdow
    November 21, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    It doesn’t sound like he had any documentation to support his accusation.

  13. Jlynch
    November 21, 2011 - 2:08 pm

    It does not appear that there is anything solid (a witness) to tie the discrimination to the incident.  Solely on the discrimination though, the line supervisor falls under that “knew or should have known” about the harassment.  If you know about it, you have to escalate it whether or not they file a formal complaint in writing.

  14. Jlynch
    November 21, 2011 - 2:08 pm

    It does not appear that there is anything solid (a witness) to tie the discrimination to the incident.  Solely on the discrimination though, the line supervisor falls under that “knew or should have known” about the harassment.  If you know about it, you have to escalate it whether or not they file a formal complaint in writing.

  15. Ashelton
    November 21, 2011 - 2:38 pm

    Need more detail. Right now, I would say that the company would be held responsible for the hostile work environment but not the injury.  

  16. Ashelton
    November 21, 2011 - 2:38 pm

    Need more detail. Right now, I would say that the company would be held responsible for the hostile work environment but not the injury.  

  17. Ken
    November 21, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Whatever the outcome of the case would be there is probably enough on the face of it to let it go to trial. Did this supervisor remind him of the policy that says to go to HR or did he just listen to his complaints and do nothing? It would still be his responsibility to at least point out the policy if not to go to HR himself if he felt the complaint was justified.

  18. Ken
    November 21, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Whatever the outcome of the case would be there is probably enough on the face of it to let it go to trial. Did this supervisor remind him of the policy that says to go to HR or did he just listen to his complaints and do nothing? It would still be his responsibility to at least point out the policy if not to go to HR himself if he felt the complaint was justified.

  19. HRMJ
    November 21, 2011 - 3:29 pm

    The line supervisor should have brought the complaint to HR or top management so that an investigation could have been conducted.  Although that didn’t happen, it is hard to say based on the informaton presented to determine if there is a true hostile work environment case.

  20. HRMJ
    November 21, 2011 - 3:29 pm

    The line supervisor should have brought the complaint to HR or top management so that an investigation could have been conducted.  Although that didn’t happen, it is hard to say based on the informaton presented to determine if there is a true hostile work environment case.

  21. HeRo
    November 21, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    The company may have a complaint procedure that specifically does not allow line management to receive complaints.  If so, then the company could use the affirmative defense.  Otherwise there is not enough info to make a good call.  Still – I’m betting on the employee for this one.

  22. HeRo
    November 21, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    The company may have a complaint procedure that specifically does not allow line management to receive complaints.  If so, then the company could use the affirmative defense.  Otherwise there is not enough info to make a good call.  Still – I’m betting on the employee for this one.

  23. Krisrapisardi
    November 21, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    A supervisor is required by law to report a harassment complaint to management.  It is not the obligation of the employee, no matter what the company policy may be.

  24. Krisrapisardi
    November 21, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    A supervisor is required by law to report a harassment complaint to management.  It is not the obligation of the employee, no matter what the company policy may be.

  25. Eve
    November 23, 2011 - 1:28 pm

    In an effort to protect a company from any legal issues, action should be taken on any/all complaints. The supervisor should have brought these concerns to a member of the management team/HR to be investigated.

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