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Action against worker doesn’t mean hostile environment for all similar co-workers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

What should you do if you discover that a rogue supervisor is treating an employee poorly because of his race or other protected characteristic? Fix the problem fast. You don’t have to worry that the super­visor’s action will set up other lawsuits by co-workers who observed the behavior.

While the targeted worker may have a case, others will have a hard time proving that the situation created a hostile environment for them.

Recent case: Two black police officers in Greensboro watched another black police officer undergo what they believed was race-based hostility. The officers thought a supervisor was sending a message to all black officers that they might be next.

They sued, alleging that by allowing another black officer to suffer in a hostile work environment, the police department created a hostile environment for every black officer.

The court didn’t buy their argument. Although in extreme cases, harassment directed at a worker belonging to the same protected class may create hostility for all who belong to the same class, that wasn’t the case here. At most, race might have been a factor in how the supervisor treated the other black officer, but there wasn’t any evidence of extensive harassment or intimidation. (Alexander, et al., v. City of Greensboro, No. 1:09-CV-00934, MD NC, 2013)

Final note: There was no violence, no threat and no obvious intimidating behavior directed to the co-worker. Had that been the case, the result might have been different.

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