Employers face liability if they spot racial harassment at work and don’t take reasonable steps to stop it. Don’t assume the problem will go away on its own—or that workers who experience harassment will indefinitely tolerate a hostile environment.
Recent case: Efrain, a millwright, was born in Mexico and became a United States citizen in 1981.
He claimed that the lead millwright subjected him to a hostile work environment, including making comments that disparaged Hispanics and other minorities.
For example, he said the man often called black people by the n-word and called Arabs “rugheads.” He also complained about minorities “taking over the country” and said Native American women were “nasty fat squaws.” Plus, Efrain found an email printout in the breakroom that claimed President Obama was an illegal alien and that U.S. borders are “sieves.”
Efrain filed an internal complaint. The company investigated and concluded that no hostile environment existed. However, it promised to alter shifts so Efrain wouldn’t have to work with the lead millwright. When they ended up on the same shift, Efrain walked off the job and was terminated.
He sued, alleging a hostile environment. The trial court dismissed the case, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the litigation, concluding that the alleged facts, if a jury believed him, would constitute a hostile work environment. (Reynaga v. Roseberg Forest Products, No. 14-35028, 9th Cir, 2017)
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