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Act fast to stop racial comments (but don’t fear lawsuit if they’re isolated)

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Here’s some good news for HR pros: If you get a report that an employee is being subjected to name-calling, you probably still have a chance to fix the situation. Do so before it gets worse.

Recent case: Keisha Houston, who is black, worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Pfizer in its animal health division. Her supervisor also was black.

Houston complained to HR that her supervisor allegedly told her to learn how to speak proper English after Houston mispronounced the word “ask.” She said the supervisor once complimented her work by saying, “Way to go, Negro.”

Houston also claimed that her supervisor wanted black subordinates to arrive early and stay late to counter what she said was a common belief that blacks are late for work. In addition, the supervisor told black subordinates to always dress professionally and formally, even if their white co-workers wore casual clothes.

Houston sued, alleging she had been forced to work in a racially hostile environment.

The court disagreed. It pointed out that the comments were isolated and were never accompanied by any adverse actions.

Plus, Houston spent most of her time in the field, away from her supervisor and none of the comments was ever made in public. (Houston v. Perkins, et al., No. 1:08-CV-826, MD NC, 2010)

Final note: Of course, it’s better if no comments or differential treatment ever occurs. When training supervisors, include sensitivity to avoid such lawsuits.

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