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Inadvertent segregation? Be able to explain why

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Here’s a caution about workplace logistics such as office assignments, work schedules and other supervisor actions that members of a particular protected class could view as hostile: If the result is any kind of workforce “segregation,” make sure you have a good underlying business reason that has nothing to do with race, sex, etc.

Recent case: Dexter Roberts, who is black, worked for Fruit Fresh Up on a production line where workers sort produce for shipping to supermarkets. After a few months, Roberts was promoted to line leader and ­assumed responsibility for supervising other workers on the line.

Roberts was one of six line leaders during his remaining time with the company. Five of them were black and one was white.

After sales began falling, the company decided to terminate two line leaders—one was Roberts.

He sued, alleging he had been forced to work in a racially hostile environment.

His claim? That line leaders were barred from accessing the management office and instead had to use another office to complete supervisory paperwork. That meant that almost everyone in the second office was black, while everyone using the other management office was white. Roberts said that amounted to segregation.

Fruit Fresh Up explained that the so-called “white office” contained confidential documents such as personnel files and evaluations. Since line leaders didn’t need access to those documents, they were assigned to the other office.

The court dismissed Roberts’ claim. It reasoned that the company had a legitimate reason for separating the offices that had nothing to do with race. Rather, it was clear the company simply wanted to limit access to sensitive documents to those who needed them. (Roberts v. Fruit Fresh Up, No. 08-CV-274, WD NY, 2011)

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