Employers that adopt a proactive approach to stopping and preventing future racial hostility at work are best positioned to win hostile work environment lawsuits.
Ignoring obvious signs of workplace trouble won’t make it go away and will only encourage further harassment.
Recent case: The EEOC sued Rock-Tenn Services, a company that operates a paper mill in Dallas, after several black employees complained about racially hostile graffiti, racial slurs and the presence of a noose in the workplace.
When the EEOC investigated the claims, it discovered that the conduct had gone on sporadically for years and that managers sometimes took months—even up to a year—to remove offensive graffiti in bathrooms and other locations throughout the workplace.
Rock-Tenn urged the court that heard the case to block evidence of earlier harassment.
The court refused. It said the EEOC could use the old incidents to prove a continuing violation and to show that the company wasn’t serious about its efforts to stop current harassment and prevent future incidents that could cause a racially hostile work environment.
It ordered a jury trial and the jurors will hear about years of offensive graffiti. (EEOC v. Rock-Tenn Services, No. 3:10-CV-1960, ND TX, 2012)
Final note: At every plant and facility, designate someone whose job it is to look for and remove anything offensive on walls, lockers and other locations where employees spend time. Conduct spot inspections to make sure it’s being done.