A recently filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint alleging that a black supervisor made racially harassing comments to black employees provides a useful reminder to employers to be on the lookout for, and to address, any and all complaints of workplace harassment.
Nine employees of the Tukwila School District in Seattle, Washington recently filed an EEOC complaint alleging that their school superintendent subjected them to racially discriminatory comments. These alleged comments include statements such as “you have to stop being a big, black man scaring our white drivers” and, to an employee who had recently hired several minorities, “[you're] making the district look too black.” All of the complaining employees, as well as the superintendent, are black. Additionally, the Tukwila School District is well known as a racially diverse district: more than two-thirds of students are non-white.
This is not the first claim of harassment between members of the same racial group. While these claims have generally been unsuccessful, it’s possible that employers could be liable for such conduct since racial comments, no matter who makes them, could constitute differential treatment based on race. However, even if an agency or court refused to recognize the validity of this kind of discrimination, an administrative complaint or lawsuit could open up your organization to unwanted scrutiny. A governmental agency’s or disgruntled employee’s complaint might result in a wide-sweeping investigation that could cost time, money, and resources.
Therefore, it’s important to always be on the lookout for potential workplace harassment. And if you suspect or discover any harassing conduct, you must investigate it immediately. This will lessen the odds that your business will be the next Tukwila School District.