Here’s a tip that may prove invaluable if a former employee decides to sue over an alleged hostile work environment: Track and respond to every reported incident.
That way, should a lawsuit later allege additional, more severe incidents, you are in a good position to argue they never happened. After all, why would an employee report some incidents, but not other, arguably more offensive ones?
Recent case: Marvin Chambers, who is black, worked as a driver for Pitt Ohio Express. To say that he was accident-prone is an understatement. In almost seven years with the company, he was involved in a string of driving mishaps. He twice hit deer, received police citations for bad driving and ran into security gates. The last straw came when Chambers backed into an occupied vehicle at a customer’s place of business.
While Chambers was employed, he reported several racist comments, including one in which a co-worker said, “Oh, black man here, hold your wallet.” Another incident involved jokes about a watermelon Chambers offered to a co-worker.
After Chambers was fired for poor driving, he sued, alleging race bias and a hostile work environment.
That’s when he recalled other racist comments, which he had never reported to his managers. These included a co-worker’s comment that “at one point, I would have two or three of you hanging in my backyard,” and that he was “going down to get some good ol’ boys” to “take care of” Chambers.
The court dismissed the case after concluding that the reported incidents weren’t severe enough to create a hostile work environment.
It essentially ignored the later alleged comments since Chambers never told his supervisor about them. (Chambers v. Pitt Ohio Express, No. 1:11-CV-1337, ND OH, 2012)
- When technological change means jobs are changing too, document the training you offer
- When conducting bias investigations, you don't need to be perfect--just reasonable
- Employer pulls job offer, attracts ADA lawsuit
- The key is consistency: Make sure similar infractions are subject to similar punishment
- Warn bosses: Bias could mean punitive damages