Employers that let bosses get away with ethnic slurs risk having an unsympathetic jury decide whether and how severely to punish them.
Merely telling supervisors to stop isn’t enough. If you don’t send a strong message to those who use slurs that such behavior is unacceptable, you risk creating a corporate culture that encourages more of the same—and you may also empower supervisors to retaliate against the targeted employee. That means another potentially large jury verdict.
Recent case: Ruben Gonzalez worked for Akal Security until he was fired for a series of minor disciplinary problems, such as coming to work 15 minutes late. The disciplinary problems didn’t start until after he and another employee—who is white—complained to that their boss used ethnic slurs. Gonzalez said the supervisor commented that he was “tired of these f****** New York cockroaches.” Gonzalez told management he perceived “cockroaches” to mean “poor, dirty Puerto Ricans with large families living in filthy tenement buildings in New York.”
The employer reprimanded the supervisor, but then suspended Gonzalez and his co-worker for alleged usage of a vulgar Spanish word.
Gonzalez sued, and the court said there was enough evidence of national-origin discrimination to send the case forward for a jury trial. (Gonzalez v. Akal Security, No. 8:08-CV-2270, MD FL, 2009)
Final note: Because Gonzalez’s co-worker also reported the “cockroach” comment, the court ruled he engaged in protected activity. Now he can go ahead with a retaliation lawsuit.
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