Here’s a bit of good news: Employees who believe that their co-workers have discriminated against them or harassed them on account of their protected characteristics can’t sue under both Title VII and state tort laws.
That takes away one potentially expensive avenue for recovering damages.
Recent case: Thomas Jackson and Richard Gregerson sued their employer, alleging they had been racially discriminated against and harassed by co-workers.
They sued for negligent retention and supervision under North Carolina tort laws, claiming that they could do so because the underlying discrimination and harassment they allegedly experienced was illegal under Title VII and Section 1981
of the Civil Rights Act.
The court disagreed. It concluded that North Carolina employees could sue for negligent supervision and retention only if the acts they claim were independent torts under North Carolina law. (Jackson & Gregerson v. FKI Logistics, et al., No. 5:08-CV-446, ED NC, 2009)
Final notes: While federal claims under Title VII are capped based on the number of workers the target company employs, that’s not the case for state tort claims. The sky’s the limit, and juries have been known to be very generous when they believe an employer has wronged an employee. Of course, your best bet is still to investigate all harassment complaints and fix them fast.
Online resource: Read the EEOC’s definition of illegal racial discrimination at www.eeoc.gov/types/race.html.
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