What should you do if you discover that a rogue supervisor is treating an employee poorly because of his race or other protected characteristic? Fix the problem fast. You don’t have to worry that the supervisor’s action will set up other lawsuits by co-workers who observed the behavior.
While the targeted worker may have a case, others will have a hard time proving that the situation created a hostile environment for them.
Recent case: Two black police officers in Greensboro watched another black police officer undergo what they believed was race-based hostility. The officers thought a supervisor was sending a message to all black officers that they might be next.
They sued, alleging that by allowing another black officer to suffer in a hostile work environment, the police department created a hostile environment for every black officer.
The court didn’t buy their argument. Although in extreme cases, harassment directed at a worker belonging to the same protected class may create hostility for all who belong to the same class, that wasn’t the case here. At most, race might have been a factor in how the supervisor treated the other black officer, but there wasn’t any evidence of extensive harassment or intimidation. (Alexander, et al., v. City of Greensboro, No. 1:09-CV-00934, MD NC, 2013)
Final note: There was no violence, no threat and no obvious intimidating behavior directed to the co-worker. Had that been the case, the result might have been different.
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- Equal opportunity discipline: Don't let rogue bosses subvert your anti-harassment policy