Are some assignments within your organization more dangerous than others? Make sure you don’t dump those duties on members of a protected class. Instead, distribute those tasks evenly so no one can claim he or she was singled out for hazardous assignments because of race, national origin or some other protected characteristic.
Recent case: Dianne Scott, who is black, worked for a facility that processes radioactive and other hazardous waste. She joined a lawsuit against the companies running the facility. The suit raised a variety of race discrimination claims, including Scott’s claim that she was assigned to process the most dangerous radioactive samples because of her race, while white co-workers handled nonradioactive and less dangerous samples.
Scott claimed that because she handled the “hotter” samples, she was exposed to significantly more radiation.
A trial court initially dismissed her case, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the claim. It ordered the trial court to gather more evidence—particularly to find out whether Scott (and other black employees) were the only ones forced to accept the more dangerous assignments, while white employees had the opportunity to choose less dangerous tasks. If that was the case, the court reasoned, then Scott would have a race discrimination claim. (Sherman, et al. v. Westinghouse Savannah River Company, et al., No. 04-2414, 4th Cir., 2008)
Final note: Remember, employees in the same classification, earning the same salary and receiving the same benefits still can sue for disparate treatment based on race. It’s not all about money—it’s also about working conditions. Adopt an egalitarian approach. Draw lots or find some other random way for assigning undesirable or dangerous work.
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