Sheila Smith, a former transport aide in the emergency room at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, filed an EEOC lawsuit alleging she suffered discrimination and retaliation because she is black.
Within months of joining Fairview in 2005, Smith began receiving repeated warnings about performance issues. At the same time, she complained to about racist comments by co-workers, such as, “These black aides don’t know what they’re doing,” and “Just like a dog, you beat them and abuse them, they still come back. Just like any good runaway slave.”
Smith filed her EEOC complaint in March 2006. In June, after being passed over for a promotion, she resigned.
The court found that while the comments were “abhorrent,” they were made by co-workers, not supervisors, and did not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. Further, the court found that Fairview had legitimate business reasons for not promoting her, thoroughly documented in her personnel file.
Final note: While an employer may view a decision like this as a “win,” it shouldn’t discount the impact negative publicity will have. Plus, a smart lawyer may look for another employee who claims discrimination, using the earlier lawsuit to show a pattern and practice of discrimination and as the basis for a class action. It’s harder to defend against multiple claims.
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