Much as you would like to, you can’t control every statement that comes out of supervisors’ mouths. Someday, someone somewhere within your organization will utter an ethnic comment or slur.
That doesn’t have to become the basis for a successful lawsuit—as long as you have a track record of treating all employees fairly. Prove you do so by reviewing all decisions regardingand reductions in force and keeping detailed records.
Recent case: Maurice Louis was the mailroom manager for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden until he was discharged soon after he filed an EEOC complaint. He alleged that he had been singled out for termination in retaliation for complaining and that he had been forced to work in a hostile work environment.
Among his allegations was that a supervisor had once sent him an email that used language Louis interpreted as a dig at his Haitian ethnic origin. The email instructed Louis to do something “toute de suite,” French for “immediately.”
Louis also said co-workers told him he should have been in Haiti when the island nation was struck with a massive earthquake in 2010.
But the botanical garden explained that Louis had already been on a list of possible terminations due to deteriorating finances. The employer worked its way down the list of layoffs during the economic downturn, and coincidentally, Louis’ name came up shortly after his complaint.
The court dismissed his case. It reasoned that the botanical garden’s termination list predated Louis’ EEOC complaint, that it was clear terminations followed the list and included other races and ethnicities, that the comments Louis endured weren’t related to his termination and that the timing was coincidental and unrelated to the EEOC complaint. (Louis v. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, No. 10-CV-5406, ED NY, 2011)
- Problem employee both brash and unskilled? Focus on performance issues when disciplining
- Pay attention to timing when asking applicants to sign arbitration agreements
- Employees can't sue under state's ERA if other laws cover employer
- Don't let manual become a contract—Make sure employees sign 'At-Will' notice
- When deciding layoffs, rely on several objective factors