Friday, October 26, 2007

Racial harassment lawsuits on the rise


It seems like every day I'm reporting on another class of employment lawsuits that are multiplying in number. Today's victim is the racial harassment suit. Today's USA Today (Racial harassment lawsuits at work go up) is reporting that the EEOC has seen the number of racial harassment complaints filed with it more than double in the past 17 years, from 3,075 in 1991 to about 7,000 in 2007. Thursday, the EEOC settled for $290,000 a racial harassment complaint brought against a Gulf of Mexico oil driller stemming from the display of nooses (Global Drilling Company to pay $290,000 for Racial Harassment, Including Nooses). The USA Today article also discusses EEOC settlements involving allegations of the display of racial graffiti and the use of racial epithets. Hangman's nooses is also a popular allegation in these cases. Indeed, since 2001, the EEOC has filed more than 30 lawsuits involving the display of nooses at work, some of which resulting in 7-figure settlements.

While workplace harassment is typically thought of in terms of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment on the basis of any protected characteristic is just as unlawful. Racial harassment, national origin harassment, age-based harassment, disability harassment, religious harassment, and harassment based on any other protected class are all equally as unlawful as sexual harassment. All workplace harassment policies should make clear that all of these forms of harassment are illegal, and will be treated the same by management. Companies' annual or semiannual harassment training should not just be limited to sexual harassment, but should include all forms of unlawful harassment. This EEOC serves as a good tickler to remind all companies to check their harassment policies to ensure that it covers all types of harassment, and to update where necessary.

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