Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Amid all of the sexual harassment concerns, let us not forget that other types of harassment exist

So much of the news lately has focused on sexual harassment, that it’s easy for one to forget that other types of harassment also exist.

For example, racial harassment.

Since we are but a week away from Christmas, I thought it appropriate to use a holiday-time example to illustrate.

The plaintiff in Bradley v. Arwood (6th Cir. 8/29/17) was an African-American employee of the Michigan Department of the Attorney General. She claimed that her direct supervisor, Susan Przekop-Shaw, created a racially segregated and hostile work environment. For example, the office had a black holiday party and a white holiday party.
Przekop-Shaw denied the black Detroit secretaries’ request to have a holiday party that exceeded their hour-long lunch break, when Przekop-Shaw herself had hosted a holiday party for the all-white Lansing staff at her home. Bradley supported her claim that the all-black Detroit secretarial staff was treated differently from the all-white Lansing staff with testimony from a former co-worker who testified about Przekop-Shaw’s decision to prohibit the Detroit staff from having their Christmas party other than during their lunch hour.

This incident, coupled with others in which Przekop-Shaw treated Bradley differently, led the 6th Circuit to hold that the trial court had correctly concluded that there existed “enough evidence to put the question whether Przekop-Shaw subjected Bradley to severe and pervasive race-based harassment to a jury.”

One can quibble (as did the dissent) over whether these incidents rise to the level of severity or pervasiveness necessary to support a harassment claim. That argument, however, ignores the bigger picture.

If you are holding a holiday party for your all-white staff at your home, while at the same time denying the request of your all-black secretaries to have an office party that extends beyond their hour-long lunch break, you are putting yourself in the position to have this treatment challenged in court. And I promise you, that is a position in which you never want to find yourself.

Harassment comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Let’s not allow Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer to blur our focus on preventing all types of workplace harassment.