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 andimmediately 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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