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Gambling on who may sue is a losing bet

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in Human Resources

When racial tensions among third-shift employees at a Wal-Mart boiled over, Gail Robinson reported it to her managers several times. African-American co-workers called her "white bitch," shoved and threatened her.

When black workers accused Robinson of using racial slurs, she was warned that if it happened again, she would be terminated. What she said during a later incident is disputed, but it was interpreted as a slur, and she was fired. The African-American workers who harassed her may have been disciplined. They didn't lose their jobs.

Robinson won more than $25,000 from a jury, plus interest and attorney fees under Michigan civil rights law. (Robinson v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 207973, Mich. CA, 2000)

Advice: Be evenhanded. Don't deviate from your company policy out of fear of being sued by members of a protected class. Ensure that all employees get equal treatment and that company rules on harassment and discrimination are applied consistently.

When there is racial animosity between co-workers, address the issues head-on and reconfirm your commitment to tolerance. Depending on the severity of the situation, this can be accomplished one-on-one or in mandatory group meetings. If hateful behavior continues, be prepared to act regardless of skin color or the chance of litigation.

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