Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don’t forget to check social networks during your workplace investigations

Cleveland.com reports that a former bi-racial employee has sued a Steak ‘n Shake restaurant for race and disability discrimination:

A discrimination lawsuit contends that two employees of a Steak ‘n Shake restaurant in Aurora used racial slurs, including n-----, to refer to a black co-worker.

Brandon Waters’ suit also accuses the Indiana-based restaurant chain of failing to provide a harassment-free work environment, resulting in his firing in 2011 for being too afraid to show up for work….

Waters is biracial, and he was born with a viral infection that affects his motor and speech skills. His lawsuit names the restaurant chain, Timothy Schoeffler, a former co-worker, and Nick Karl, a former manager at the restaurant.

According to the complaint, Waters was called racial slurs at the store and on Twitter, and Karl and Schoeffler referred to him by the nickname “Radio,” a reference to the 2003 film in which Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a mentally disabled student. Karl is also accused of creating a “Radio” name tag that Waters refused to wear. 

Schoeffler also dumped a milkshake on Waters’ head in front of Karl, who laughed, the lawsuit states. The two then discussed the incident on Twitter, the lawsuit says.

Screen shots of a collection of tweets between the two men is attached to the lawsuit, and includes references to “Radio” and messages such as “the white way is the right way.”

Screen shots? Here you go:


Two thoughts to leave you with:

  1. Yes, employees are still ignorant enough about social media to engage in very public online conversation about the (alleged) systematic harassment of a co-worker. If you are not checking Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks as part of your internal workplace investigations, there is a good chance you are missing key evidence, and maybe even the smoking gun.

  2. The restaurant fired the accused employees in response to the plaintiff’s complaint to management about the alleged harassment. The plaintiff, however, just stopped going to work after their termination, claiming that he felt “unsafe as other employees and managers either tolerated or participated in the harassment.” If this employer had an anti-harassment policy, trained all of its employees about the policy, conducted a prompt investigation after the internal complaint, and took prompt remedial action after the complaint, I think that this plaintiff is going to have a difficult time establishing his claim against the employer.