- Blog post
Worker injury: Was racism the cause?
Based on the facts presented in the scenario below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment-law case?
Stan Mikelski groaned a little as he turned to get comfortable in his hospital bed. His supervisor, Carl Benson, who was visiting, winced in sympathy.
“It’s OK, Carl,” Stan said. “The hip feels a lot better than when I broke it two weeks ago. And I appreciate you coming to see me.
“But I would’ve appreciated it even more if you’d taken my beefs about Grover Smith seriously,” Stan added. “He let that steel coil roll onto me on purpose. If you’d listened when I said he was a racist who hated all whites, he wouldn’t have been in a position to hurt me.”
On purpose, or not?
“You don’t know he did it on purpose,” Carl said. “He said he just released the mechanism too early, before you were out of the way.”
“Well, I think the guy who was always giving black power salutes, and staring me and the other whites down, and saying he’d kill anybody who called him the n-word, is a guy who wouldn’t hesitate to drop a coil on a white guy,” Stan said.
“Grover is rude to everyone, black or white,” Carl said. “Did you ever see him talk nice to Sam Hines?
“He doesn’t talk to Sam the way he talks to the white guys,” Stan insisted.
“Look,” Carl said, “even if you’re right — and I’m not saying you are — our policy says you’re supposed to bring complaints about harassment to the plant manager or HR. You never did. I’m only a line boss, and I can’t discipline anybody.”
“You still should have done something,” Stan said.
Later, Stan sued the company for subjecting him to a racially hostile environment. Did he win?
No, Stan didn’t win. The federal courts said his case had two fatal flaws:
- He couldn’t prove that Grover, his black co-worker, injured him on purpose, so he couldn’t use the injury as proof of a hostile environment.
- He didn’t comply with company policy on reporting the prior incidents of alleged racial hostility. The written policy said he should report such matters to the plant manager or HR, not a line supervisor like Carl with limited authority.
So there you have it. Stan’s evidence of racial discrimination didn’t hold up in front of a judge. Agree? Disagree? Keep the discussion going in the comments!