One of the fastest paths to a nasty race discrimination case—and all the bad publicity that follows—is for a supervisor to make a racist comment. If that supervisor is then involved in any disciplinary action against the employee, chances are those earlier comments will provide the employee with direct evidence of discrimination.
That’s why all supervisors must understand that any comment that could be interpreted as racially motivated will mean immediate termination. You have to be tough—it may be the only way you can prevent a legal nightmare.
Recent case: James Scott was the only black employee working for Hemlock Semiconductor. The company fired Scott after he blocked the view of a surveillance video camera.
Several weeks before the video incident, Scott’s supervisor made several comments that Scott considered racially charged. Once, the supervisor said, “Hey, boy, hey, boy, are you out there?” Another time the supervisor said he could outwork Scott in the lab, and told him he would “put his white hood on and come in the morning and whip” Scott. He also told Scott, while discussing the company’s expansion, that he could take Scott “out back and hang” him and nobody would ever find him.
Scott sued for race discrimination. Although the HR office and upper-level managers ultimately made the decision to terminate Scott for covering the videotape, they did ask the supervisor for input. Because of that input, the court said their decision might have been tainted by the supervisor’s racist attitude. It ordered a trial based on the direct evidence of racism. (Scott v. Hemlock Semiconductor, No. 06-14903, ED MI, 2007)