The 5th Circuit Court recently upheld a jury’s verdict in a case involving an allegedly egregious violation of two employees’ rights. The employees, two African-American men, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against their company CorpCar, a Houston limousine service, after their superiors engaged in a humiliating and disgusting mockery of Juneteenth (June 19), the holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery.
When the two employees asked for Juneteenth off and explained the significance of the holiday to their superiors, their managers scheduled mandatory safety meetings on the June 18, 19 and 20. During the meeting on June 18, a white woman in a black gorilla suit entered the room and began singing, dancing and inappropriately touching the employees while comparing her suit to the African-American men. The management, laughing and cheering, recorded the incident and presented the video to the African-American employees, asking if they enjoyed their Juneteenth. The woman in the gorilla suit recited racial stereotypes and harassed the employees the next day, as well, after the employees were denied time off and forced to work.
Defining a Hostile Work EnvironmentThe above events represent a textbook example of a hostile work environment, a proscribed form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Acts of discrimination must be based on a legally protected class as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such as race. In addition, the discriminatory acts must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.
This paradigm creates a sliding scale between severity and frequency. A more severe act requires less frequency to be considered as a factor in a hostile work environment; likewise, less severe acts require more frequency.
If you have suffered from harassment at work due to your race, you should speak with a qualified employment law attorney.
Atkerson Law – Dallas Employment Attorney