Racial Discrimination in the Workplace case helps clarify 'hostile work environment'

by on January 2, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Hostile work environment and racism in the workplace.

The law doesn’t care if a supervisor intensely dislikes a worker. Courts won’t tell managers they can’t glare at their subordinates. The law will step in when discriminatory conduct is either severe or pervasive. It needn’t be both.

This racial discrimination lawsuit highlights the difference between unpleasant (legal) behavior and discriminatory (illegal) conduct.

A white employee was subjected to an environment of workplace racial discrimination by a black supervisor who called her a “white bitch.” The comment wasn’t made often – only once or twice in an 18-month period. But the court considered factors other than frequency, including:

    Severity. On a daily basis, she endured her supervisor’s nasty glares. That plus the bigoted remarks count as severe enough to create a hostile work environment.
    Presence of a threat or humiliation. The worker, who’d been singled out by her race, felt humiliated by the mean treatment she received daily.
    Interference with work performance. As the hostile treatment continued, the employee’s performance slipped.

The court found that the infrequently used racial epithet combined with the ongoing nastiness created a hostile work environment. The employee won her case because the company failed to contain a bigoted supervisor who couldn’t keep her negativity to herself.

Cite: Bowen v. Missouri Department of Social Services, U.S. Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit, No. 01-3999, 12/2/02.

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