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Don’t tell supervisors to expect subordinate bigotry

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Here’s a way to create management problems and encourage potential lawsuits: Just tell minority managers and supervisors that they can expect their subordinates to harass them and ignore directives because of prejudice in the ranks.

Not only does such talk upset new managers and supervisors, but it also puts them on the lookout for problems they otherwise may not have known about. Now every cross word or under-the-breath muttering could be interpreted as subordinate harassment and insubordination.

The correct approach: Have a solid anti-harassment policy in place and enforce it. No employee—management or rank and file—should have to endure a racially hostile work environment, whether the harassment comes from above or below. To accept such behavior is to condone it, and the consequence may be a lawsuit.

Recent case: Denise Woods, who is black, accepted a job as a probationary assistant principal at the Newburg Enlarged City School District. Woods alleged that when she agreed to take the position, the school principal told her, “There may be some people who will not accept you because of the color of your skin.”

Woods immediately began to notice what she perceived as disrespect from her white subordinate teachers.

Woods later sued, after being discharged for allegedly violating school rules against copying student records. She claimed she had been subjected to a racially hostile environment. After her principal’s initial warning, Woods charged, another supervisor told her that teachers were complaining that she “went to the NAACP on them,” and that the supervisor had faced past racist conduct from white teachers.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case. Woods couldn’t find anyone who could directly testify about past racist conduct. The court said Woods hadn’t linked her principal’s predictions to later events. If she had, she could have used the prediction as proof that the administration wasn’t doing anything to prevent a racially hostile environment. (Woods v. Newburg Enlarged City School District, et al., No. 07-0610, 2nd Cir., 2008)

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