Workplace racial discrimination lawsuits are not prevented by half-hearted HR efforts

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

From daily to occasional racial discrimination at work

Say you discipline a manager for harassing minority workers, which significantly reduces the incidents of racial discrimination in the workplace. You might think you’re good to go. After all, if the harassment is not pervasive you’d win in court, right?

Not necessarily. As this case illustrates, employers should make every effort to eliminate – not just reduce – workplace racial discrimination.

George McGinest, an African-American, was a construction worker for a telecommunications firm. McGinest endured 15 years of daily taunts and racial discrimination at work. He complained many times, and HR addressed most of his concerns: His supervisors were disciplined, counseled and shown anti-harassment videos.

Conditions did improve. The incidents became few and far between. But eventually McGinest filed a racial discrimination lawsuit.

The firm believed it had done plenty to thwart the harassment. A district court agreed, awarding summary judgment to the employer. But McGinest won on appeal. An appeals court judge said the employer hadn’t taken enough measures “to put an end” to the harassment.

HR should have made every effort to eliminate racial discrimination in the workplace. Simply making it a less hostile work environment wasn’t enough under the law.

Cite: McGinest v. GTE, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, No. 01-57065, 3/11/04.

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