The cost of crude workplace racism: $125,000

A Minnesota company has agreed to settle charges that it allowed a white supervisor to harass two black carpenters with a steady stream of racial epithets and death threats.

The two complained to management at JL Schwieters Construction that their supervisor regularly used the N-word. Then one day, they said, he fashioned a noose from electrical cord and threatened them with it.

The company did not address the problem until the carpenters filed complaints with the EEOC.

The settlement terms reveal quite a bit about the carpenters’ ordeal. In addition to the $125,000 the two will split, JL Schwieters agreed to train not only its supervisors, but all of its nonsupervisory employees as well about what Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts requires.

While unusual, it is not unheard of for the EEOC to require training for nonsupervisory personnel. Apparently, the white supervisor was not alone in carrying out the harassment.

Tough Talks D

Especially in industries like construction, where work is performed on far-flung sites, the problem is that an “outpost” culture can take hold among work crews. The result may be intimidation of minority or female workers. Unless the company, often through the supervisor, affirmatively stops the intimidation, it will go unchecked. Employees are less likely to challenge a supervisor’s actions in such a setting.

Advice: Title VII requires employers to provide a harassment-free workplace for all employees. Do that by:

  • Immediately taking down any signs of hate, such as nooses, hoods or swastikas
  • Training supervisors to recognize and counteract harassment of all types. From a liability standpoint, the sooner a supervisor intervenes in workplace harassment the better.

The training required by this settlement agreement seeks to go further by preventing incidents from occurring in the first place.

In an era when racist groups command headlines, employers should be alert for an uptick in racial harassment.