The latest chapter in an ongoing legal battle opened recently when the Allegheny Port Authority responded to charges leveled by Deborah Blocker, a black employee who has alleged racial harassment.
Blocker claims someone placed a black doll with a racial epithet written across it in her locker in 2007. When she complained, she says, the port authority retaliated against her.
The authority, which runs public transportation services in Pittsburgh, fired Blocker in 2009, but an arbiter later ordered her reinstated.
The port authority believes it was set up. Responding to Blocker’s lawsuit, the authority said Blocker was not at work the night the doll was found. It contended in court documents that two of her friends found it, and one “immediately took a picture of the doll and texted it to Blocker.” The authority claimed, “Blocker then contacted various media outlets that morning and claimed that she was the target of a racial hate crime.”
The port authority says it has a signed statement from one of the co-workers saying that Blocker told her in advance that the doll would be there, and told her to photograph it.
The FBI investigated, but no charges were filed.
Note: Cases where the employer and employee have differing versions of events are the most difficult to deal with. Employers can best defuse those situations by responding quickly to any claim of discrimination or harassment. Investigate quickly and fairly. Then promptly investigate any subsequent claims of retaliation.
Make sure all parties know that any falsehoods or coverups during the investigation could be cause for discipline, up to and including dismissal.
- Aging work force requires vigilance against discrimination
- Your rules can protect against retaliation—make sure managers follow them
- Workers' religious beliefs don't trump your need for a bias-free workplace
- How not to manage HR: Forget about formal hiring and promotions processes
- Employee isn't completely reliable? OK to consider that when making promotion decisions