There may be areas of your workplace that supervisors, and maybe even HR, rarely visit, such as locker rooms, loading docks and break rooms. But don't take a "hear no evil, see no evil" approach to discrimination and harassment that goes on in those blue-collar areas.
Supervisors and HR should build random walk-through inspections into their schedules. An illegal hostile environment may be in plain view. Cracking down on it now is a whole lot easier, and less expensive, than defending such a claim in court.
What creates a hostile environment? Graffiti, name-calling and vandalism directed at a person's race, religion, sex, country of origin or other protected category. The same goes for sexually explicit posters and calendars in open view. Because such material often shows up in areas not commonly visited by upper, develop an inspection routine. As the following case illustrates, ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
Recent case: Warehouse employee Andre Mendenhall, an African-American, found feces smeared on his locker and graffiti with the word "NIGA" on 17 different walls. Co-workers called him a "dog" and "black monkey." When he complained, his line supervisor shot back that she "was sick and tired of all this discrimination bull..." She even accused him of writing the graffiti himself.
Mendenhall sued for race discrimination and a hostile work environment. The court tossed out the race-bias claim, but it let Mendenhall take his hostile environment claim to trial.
The company tried to argue that, because Mendenhall couldn't show evidence of underlying race discrimination, he couldn't sue for a hostile work environment. But the court ruled otherwise. (Mendenhall v. Mueller Streamline, No. 04-1515, 7th Cir., 2005)
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