Was bad treatment motivated by racism in the workplace?

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Racial discrimination in the workplace can be instigated by outside relationships

“I’m sick of this,” Sean Hayes said, looking steadily at supervisor Mike Brazos, who stared back. “Ever since he found out my wife was black, he’s been riding me.”

HR manager Tim Goldsworthy, who had called the meeting, broke in. “We told Mike to cut out the racial remarks, and as far as I know he’s complied,” Tim said. “So it’s not accurate to say he’s still riding you.”

“Oh, yes it is,” Sean said sharply. “True, he hasn’t called me a ‘n***** lover’ lately, and he hasn’t said he never met an intelligent black person, like he did before I complained.

“But he tried to get me to shovel gravel when I was restricted from my shoulder injury, and last week he cussed me up one side and down the other for being 15 minutes late,” Sean continued.

Foul language

Mike, sitting in the chair next to Tim’s office door, stirred. “You don’t get here on time, you oughtn’t expect a kiss on the cheek,” he said.

Sean looked angrily at Mike. Tim said, “Mike’s not wrong. He’s entitled to expect punctuality of you.”

“Sure,” Sean said. “But he doesn’t cuss the other guys when they’re late, which they are a lot.”

“Mike, you probably need to watch your language,” Tim said. “OK?”

“Sure,” Mike said. “No problem.”

“Well, I see a problem,” Sean said. “He still hates me because of my wife, and he’s not done with me.”

Two weeks later, Sean quit. He sued for racial discrimination at work based on his association with his African-American wife.

Did the company succeed in getting the suit thrown out?

Decision

No, the company didn’t get Sean’s suit thrown out.

The court said an employee can sue for racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act even if the racial discrimination isn’t aimed at the employee but at his or her association by marriage with someone of another race.

As for the racial discrimination in the workplace, the company said Mike had cut out the racial remarks, and his brusque treatment of Sean wasn’t racially driven.

But the court disagreed. Given Mike’s expressed dislike for Sean’s interracial marriage, his order to Sean to shovel despite his medical restrictions and his abuse of Sean for being late could be seen as workplace racial discrimination.

Hot button

Interracial relationships are a hot button issue with some people. Employees may need training to avoid treating co-workers badly over their marriages or domestic partnerships with people of different races.

Also, once discriminatory remarks have been made, any mistreatment of the victim may be seen as further racial discrimination in the workplace. Remind managers to be extra vigilant in such cases.

Cite: Smith v. Century Concrete, No. 05-2105, D. Kan., 7/6/06. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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