Diverse workplace can raise reverse-Discrimination risk

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

In March, when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech on race in America, he acknowledged the often unspoken anger on both sides of the nation’s racial divide: black anger at lingering discrimination and white anger at perceived special preferences.

Not many employers discriminate against members of the majority, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. In fact, white employees do file reverse-discrimination lawsuits, claiming they have been singled out for poor treatment or harassment due to their race.

Ironically, a work force that is more diverse may be at greater risk for such lawsuits. That’s one reason to pay attention to how all managers and supervisors—no matter their race or ethnicity—treat subordinates.

Recent case: Michael Arendale, a white police officer, has a black supervisor. The supervisor reports to two white managers. Arendale sued the police department, claiming he was working in a hostile environment and that he was treated more harshly than black officers. He said that his black supervisor never disciplined a black police officer, but did discipline him for minor offenses.

When such cases get to court, employees who belong to the majority usually have to show that their employers are the rare ones that discriminate against the majority. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said all Arendale had to show to get past the presumption that the majority isn’t discriminated against was that his supervisor made an adverse employment decision based on race. In this case, the supervisor happened to be black.

Even so, the court dismissed the case. Arendale was unable to show that his supervisor had treated a black officer differently than he treated Arendale. Although the supervisor had not disciplined any black officers, there was no evidence any black officers should have been disciplined. (Arendale v. Memphis, No. 07-5230, 6th Cir., 2008)

Final note:
Keep reverse discrimination on your radar screen when reviewing disciplinary actions.

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