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Memo to supervisors: Even one slur can spur jury trial

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in Human Resources

Have you warned all your supervisors and managers against using any slurs, no matter what background the slurs reference? If not, do so today!

Otherwise—if the target of the slur happens to be discharged or demoted later—you’re risking a lawsuit for national-origin discrimination or some other form of bias.

Recent case: Anna Darchak emigrated from Poland in 1991 and worked as a teacher of English as a second language. Her students were largely Polish, while the principal and most students at her school were Hispanic. At the principal’s recommendation, Darchak’s contract was not renewed.

That’s when Darchak sued, alleging she had been discriminated against because of her origin.

She claimed the principal had told her that Polish students didn’t deserve the same resources as Hispanic ones and that Darchak was “a stupid Polack.” The principal denied he made the statement and the trial court tossed out the case.

Darchak appealed and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her lawsuit. It concluded that a jury should decide who was telling the truth, since the statement—if it really occurred—would be clear and direct evidence of discrimination and a supervisor was the alleged source. Both parties will now have to try to persuade a jury that they’re telling the truth. (Darchak v. City of Chicago, No. 08-2732, 7th Cir., 2009)

Final note:
Not sure what’s a slur? Tell managers they shouldn’t comment on national origins at all.

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