The scenario: A white male supervisor had an unfortunate habit of referring to the Black staffers who worked for him as “n-gg-rs.” He uttered the offensive term almost every day. He also liked to use the word “boy” when referring to African American staffers, e.g., “Get back to work, boy.”
In addition, the manager thought it was a good idea to segregate his workforce by race. So all the Black staffers were assigned to work outside, and all the white employees labored inside. When the employer set up a portable toilet for the outside crew members, everyone knew it was to be used only by the Black staffers.
One African American man was upset about the ongoing racist behavior, so he complained to top-level managers. An investigation was launched. The investigator learned that the racist white manager had once said to another white man, “I’m so tired of working with these ‘dumbass n-gg-rs.’”
After the investigation, the racist white boss was dismissed.
A short time later, the Black man who’d complained of racism to managers was fired, allegedly as part of a companywide restructuring.
Legal challenge: The Black staffer sued for a hostile work environment motivated by his race.
The ruling: The company lost. The court refused to dismiss the case, saying that the staffer endured a workplace rife with racism. While the judge acknowledged that the employer eventually fired the racist white manager, it said the company’s actions were “too little, too late.”
The skinny: Not only should allegations of race bias be investigated, but also the review should be timely. Any delays in addressing the problem could backfire in court.
Cite: Perkins v. Detroit Salt Co., U.S. District Court, E.D. Michigan, No. 20-11211, 12/17/21.
(From the Jan. 21, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)