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Shoot for dismissal if employee’s harassment case is based on only one comment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Courts don’t want to spend all their time mediating minor workplace disputes. Judges aren’t HR professionals and don’t want to run your business. Keep that in mind the next time an employee files a lawsuit based on one or two allegedly hostile incidents. Chances are, the case will be dismissed.

Recent case: When a black em­­ployee heard a Hispanic co-worker insulted publicly, he sued, alleging a hostile work environment. The em­­ployee testified that the employer’s representative stated, “I don’t know; I can’t see for all the mud standing in front of the board.” The only person there was the Hispanic employee.

This, the black employee claimed, was a racial slur against Hispanics. He said the incident created a hostile environment for everyone.

The court tossed out the claim, reasoning that it takes more than one stupid, insensitive or racially oriented comment to justify a lawsuit. (Fisher v. Dallas County, et al., No. 3:12-CV-3604, ND TX, 2014)

Final note: Of course, if you learn that a supervisor has made similar comments, you should take steps to put a stop to it. Remind the supervisor that racially tinged comments have no place in the workplace.

Then, when you next conduct harassment training, use examples to demonstrate what kinds of comments are inappropriate. The examples should include obvious ones like the use of racial slurs and less patently offensive ones. That way, supervisors understand that it’s not just the obvious slurs they must avoid.

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