By Jonathan K. Driggs, Attorney at Law
Does $230,000.00 sound like a lot of money to you? How about $450,000.00? Would your business like to write out a check for one of these amounts when it could otherwise be avoided? Probably not. But in 2013, one Utah employer settled a racial harassment/retaliation case for $230,000.00, and another Utah employer settled a national origin/retaliation case for $450,000.00 (the largest settlement for a national origin case ever in the state of Utah). Ouch.
You see, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued each of these employers on behalf of groups of employees who filed complaints about racially-oriented harassment coming from their supervisors. Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that in the 21st Century there still are supervisors who use the N-word and other ugly racial slurs? As much as it pains me to say it, the answer is yes. According the EEOC’s current “Strategic Enforcement Plan,” one of that agency’s priorities is to protect “vulnerable workers”—including the immigrant population and other minority groups.
Statistically speaking, your chances of being sued by the EEOC regarding a charge of discrimination are pretty low (i.e., the EEOC files a lawsuit against the employer in federal court regarding the administrative charge). Out of over 90,000+ charges filed with the agency each year, the EEOC files suit on a relative few (e.g., 122 lawsuits filed in 2012). However, it appears that if serious allegations are made about racial harassment at work coming from supervisors, an employer’s chances of being sued increase significantly.
I am not going to discuss the ugly details alleged in these recent Utah cases, but I do think it is time that employers become more aware of this particular problem. Consider the following:
The large settlements mentioned above provide an important wake up call for employers regarding preventing racial harassment in the workplace. This type of behavior should have no place in our work environments.
This article should not be construed as legal advice. Copyright ©2014 by Jonathan K. Driggs, Attorney at Law, P.C. All rights reserved. Jonathan K. Driggs is an employment law attorney with over 20 years of experience, including 3 years with the Utah Labor Commission. www.jkdlawpc.com
Jonathan’s popular “Employment Law for Managers Seminar” is being offered by the State of Utah’s “Custom Fit Programs” in Davis County, Salt Lake County and Utah County during February and March of 2014 (“Custom Fit Programs” are run by the state of Utah and use state funds to offset the cost of training programs for employers). Significantly discounted rates are available for “for-profit” employers. This is the same seminar Jonathan presents for major corporations throughout the United States. Click here for details: http://www.jkdlawpc.com/seminars/