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Title VII doesn’t protect employees who complain about discrimination against customers

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

Employees who complain about co-worker or management discrimination against employees are protected from retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But what about employees who complain to management that their co-workers may be discriminating against customers? Are they protected from retaliation, too?

Not in Illinois, according to a recent federal court decision—one of the first in the country to consider this issue. Employees who complain that fellow employees may be racially profiling customers aren’t protected from retaliation under Title VII.

Recent case: Howard Denham, who is black, worked as an asset-protection investigator at a Saks Fifth Avenue department store for about two months. Denham became upset when a jewelry salesperson contacted him to report a suspicious black male shopper and suggested Denham follow him.

Denham had already called management several times about what he believed was racial profiling of customers by salespeople. This time he got angry. He came to the floor and shouted at the salesperson. The company investigated and concluded that Denham should be fired for his behavior.

He was, and he sued, alleging he had been retaliated against because he was reporting racial profiling to management.

But the court threw out his case, reasoning that reporting racial discrimination against a fellow employee is protected activity, but reporting the same thing against customers is not—at least not under Title VII. (Denham v. Saks, No. 07-C-694, ND IL, 2008)

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