Investigate every claim of racial discrimination at work

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

Allegations of racial discrimination in the workplace need to be addressed seriously

“I did something that everybody else does once in a while,” Jason Green told his manager. “But you’re firing me – and right after giving me a good performance review. Ron, I think we both know there’s something else going on here.”

Jason’s boss, Ron Werrin disagreed. “You were fired because you falsified the log. We caught you Web-surfing in the sales office. We’ve got you on video! You knew you were breaking a rule. And we’ve got your hand-written log entry stating you were patrolling the grounds at that time.”

Witness to acts of racism in the workplace

Jason said he had good reason to believe that had he been white he’d have only received a warning.

“But it did happen with a white guard – and we fired him too!” said Ronald. “We have rules that apply to everyone. And you broke them. Besides, you were warned twice before.” Once, Jason had made unauthorized telephone calls from one of the rooms. That was caught on video-tape too. Another time, he’d misrepresented his whereabouts on his activity log.

Then Jason recounted some of the acts of discrimination he’d witnessed at the hotel, including:

  • overhearing another manager using the “n word” on several occasions
  • the hotel’s VP of HR routinely greeting white employees, but never minority ones, and
  • management treating minority guests in an inferior manner to white guests.

In the past, when Jason reported racial discrimination at work, he was ignored. Jason explained to Ron that considering the hotel’s hostile environment, a jury would have to conclude that it had at least a mixed motive when it fired him.

Jason filed a racial discrimination lawsuit. Did he win?

The decision

Jason lost his case. He deserved to be fired, regardless of his race. But without thorough documentation and clear evidence, things might have gone another way for the hotel in court.

That’s because – despite the fact that Jason failed to perform his tasks, fudged his log, used equipment that he was unauthorized to use and failed to heed the warnings – his employer had a hard time deflecting the allegations of workplace racial discrimination.

At one point, Jason had reported to his supervisors what he believed was bigoted behavior “up and down the management chain.” Once, he was told to mind his own business. Other times he was ignored. That’s bad management practice, and no doubt added credence to Jason’s claimed that his firing was retaliation for his complaints.

But the company prevailed for two reasons: First, the court determined that the various managers’ bigoted comments and behavior hadn’t been aimed specifically at Jason, and weren’t pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment.

Second, the company had thoroughly documented that Jason’s overall performance at the hotel had been sub-standard. True, he’d earned one good performance review, but he’d abused his privileges, performed poorly and lied to his supervisors on numerous occasions. And the company was able to prove it.

Lesson learned: Take all allegations of racial discrimination at work seriously, whether they come from a star employee or a poor performer.

Cite: Peters v. Renaissance Hotel Operating Co., U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th circuit, No. 00-4026, 9/20/02.

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