New York race discrimination attorneys at Leeds Brown represent victims of employment discrimination in NY and across the nation. Our experienced and dedicated attorneys understand the complex issues that can arise in any discrimination matter. Sometimes, an employer discriminates against an employee based on more than one protected characteristic and in more than one way. A recent case illustrates some of the multiple ways discrimination can occur within a single place of employment.
In a press release dated 8/25/16, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it filed a lawsuit against Buffalo, New York’s Frontier Hot-Dip Galvanizing, Inc. The lawsuit alleges that Frontier allowed its employees and supervisors to use racial slurs and graffiti to harass African-American employees, creating a racially hostile environment. The suit further alleges that when workers complained about the harassment, Frontier fired them. The EEOC also accuses Frontier of harassment based on National Origin. The EEOC is seeking punitive damages, back pay, compensatory damages and injunctive relief for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. It also makes it unlawful to retaliate against an employee for complaining about, reporting or otherwise trying to put a stop to discrimination. Harassment under Title VII is the same as discrimination when it is so pervasive as to create a hostile work environment. The Frontier case raises some interesting issues about the rights and responsibilities of an employer when it comes to hostile environment discrimination and harassment.
The EEOC complaint alleges that since as far back as 2011, Frontier has subjected its black employees to a “race-based hostile work environment.” Two of the victims of such harassment are Johnny Mitchell and Jean Basquin. The EEOC alleges that the harassment included the frequent and visibly open use of serious racial slurs and threats, including racist graffiti in common areas of the business.
A hostile work environment under Title VII exists when there is unwelcome harassment based on a protected characteristic such as race. The harassment must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that “a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.” Small annoyances and isolated insults usually do not rise to the level of hostile work environment. Instead, offensive jokes, name calling, ridicule, threats, slurs, epithets and interference with work performance are more likely to create a hostile work environment.
In the Frontier case, the EEOC claims that for several years, Frontier regularly and openly subjected employees to serious racial slurs. Contributing to the race-bases hostile work environment is the existence of racist and threatening graffiti in the common areas of the workplace. Harassment like this would likely create a hostile work environment for those employees subjected to it.
Employers have an obligation to try and prevent and put a stop to the harassment. When they don’t, they can be liable for damages that occur because of that harassment.
The EEOC also alleges that Frontier is guilty of harassment based on national origin. Jean Basquin was an employee from Haiti. The lawsuit alleges that Frontier unlawfully harassed him when the superintendent shouted “We don’t work with terrorists! Only American citizens work here!”
It is unlawful to retaliate against an employee for asserting their rights under Title VII, whether they do so by complaining to human resources, management or by filing a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC alleges that Frontier violated the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII when it threatened to fire several black employees after they tried to put a stop to the race-based harassment. According to the complaint, when Mitchell tried to stand up to a co-worker who was pursuing him while calling him racially charged and insulting names, a superintendent came at Mitchell with a stick and fired him. Frontier also fired Basquin after he filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit after attempts to negotiate a settlement with Frontier failed. Frontier denies the allegations and is looking forward to defending itself in court. The company believes that the EEOC has “displayed extreme hostility….behaved unprofessionally and exhibited disinterest in the actual facts.”
Time will tell what the outcome of this particular case will be, but it does illustrate the various ways that discrimination can occur in the workplace. Title VII offers much protection to employees. Employees must seek to enforce their rights.
Contact New York race discrimination attorneys at Leeds Brown if you think you have a race discrimination claim or are experiencing race-based harassment at work. Your employer is responsible for putting a stop to harassment, and the failure to do so may mean that you are entitled to compensation.
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