When promoting from within, make sure you provide anti-harassment training

It often makes sense to fill management spots from within, promoting people who already know the work and your organizational systems. When you do so, make sure those new managers are well prepared for their new roles.

For example, you can’t let a newly promoted supervisor take on a new job without first undergoing extensive training on your harassment and discrimination policies.

Advice: Remember, employers can be held liable for managerial harassment, even if they’re unaware that anything wrong is happening. Show your good-faith effort to prevent harassment by documenting that you provided training to new managers.

Recent case: Timothy is white, his wife is black and his children are biracial. Continental Carbonic Products hired Timothy as a full-time driver at its Burnsville location.

When his co-worker, Travis, learned that Timothy’s wife was black and his children were biracial, he allegedly began making racially derogatory comments about them. He alleged that Travis used offensive terms such as “n****r,” “tar babies” and “mud flaps.” He asked Timothy if he “liked his coffee black like his wife or with cream like his kids” and whether the family ate “fried chicken and watermelon five nights a week.” Timothy claimed Travis showed him racist cartoons and told racist jokes.

This went on for two years, but Timothy never filed a complaint.

Then Travis got a promotion into management and became Timothy’s boss. The name-calling continued for seven months until Timothy finally complained to HR by calling and leaving a message. He got no response for several days, but continued to follow up. Then, three weeks after Timothy first complained to HR, the company fired Travis.

Timothy filed an EEOC complaint anyway—and, soon after, he was terminated. Timothy sued, alleging that he had been forced to work in a racially hostile work environment.

Continental Carbonic Products tried to argue that the name-calling hadn’t reached a level that constituted racial harassment or a hostile environment. At any rate, it said, Timothy hadn’t complained, so the company never had a chance to fix the problem.

The company also noted that it did go ahead and fire Travis shortly after Timothy filed his complaint.

The court didn’t buy those arguments. First, it dismissed Continental Carbonic’s claim that the comments weren’t racial harassment, concluding that the allegations did not amount to isolated or sporadic incidents of racism. Travis allegedly used racial slurs and stereotypes on a daily basis over the course of two years.

The use of the terms “mud flaps” and “tar babies,” the court said, “reduced Timothy’s family to the status of objects.” The court said, “To suggest that a human being’s appearance is essentially a caricature of a jungle beast goes far beyond the mere unflattering; it is degrading and humiliating in the extreme.” The court added that the use of the term “monkey” and other similar words “have been part of actionable racial harassment claims” for years.

Finally, the court concluded that because Travis had been a supervisor, it didn’t matter that Timothy hadn’t reported the harassment earlier. The company’s lack of knowledge was irrelevant to its liability. (Trainer v. Continental Carbonic Products, DC MN, 2017)