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Quick application of anti-harassment policy cuts liability–even in highly charged race cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Management Training

Perhaps nothing is more offensive—and terrifying—to black employees than the implicit message behind a noose. Triggering images of Jim Crow-era lynchings, the noose is a powerful symbol.

But that doesn’t mean that its appear­ance at work always means employer liability.

Recent case: Steed Welford, who is black, arrived at work one morning to find a noose made from wire ties taped to a printer stand between his desk and a co-worker’s. He complained and management immediately launched an investigation.

Later that day, managers held a meeting to discuss the discovery and reiterate that the placement of a noose at work violated the company’s anti-harassment policy. After numerous interviews, the company identified the culprit and fired him.

Welford still sued for harassment and added a claim that he had seen offensive graffiti around the plant. However, he admitted he never reported the writings.

The court tossed out his case, reasoning that the company did every­thing it should have, both before and after the incident. Plus, it wasn’t liable for the graffiti since Welford never reported it until he sued. (Wel­ford v. Caterpillar, No. 10-CV-2003, CD IL, 2011)

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