Loose lips lose workplace racial discrimination lawsuits

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

‘All-in-good-fun’ remarks can cause racial discrimination in the workplace lawsuits

Some people ridicule HR as fussy “word police” bent on censoring harmless “trash talk” in a politically correct environment. Remind them: HR didn’t invent lawsuits – but it does try to protect the company from getting sued for racial discrimination in the workplace

‘Young buck’

Tim Kelly is an African-American who had received promotions and above-average evaluations at work. One day when Kelly and several colleagues were walking toward a restaurant, Kelly ran ahead to secure a table.

When Kelly was out of earshot his supervisor, Dawn Arlotta, commented, “It’s nice to have a young buck with us.” Someone mentioned the “young buck” comment to Kelly, who confronted Arlotta and complained to HR.

Arlotta apologized, insisting she’d meant nothing racially or sexually offensive. Days later, Kelly was kidding around with colleagues when he made a vulgar comment to a woman. Later, he insisted the comment was just “trash talk.” Witnesses said everyone laughed at the time. But when the woman complained, Arlotta fired Kelly.

Kelly filed a lawsuit claiming disparate treatment: Both he and his boss had made offensive comments. But only he had been fired. And a court agreed.

This case is a reminder to discourage trash talk at work. It’s all in good fun – until someone calls a lawyer.

Cite: Kelly v. LEX, Inc., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 03 Civ. 2778, 8/4/04.

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