Thursday, April 5, 2018

In the era of #metoo, let’s not lose focus on the “me”s other than sex

Photo by Luke Braswell on Unsplash
We’ve all done a lot of talking over the past six months about sexual harassment. We should not forget, however, that our laws make harassment unlawful if it’s based on membership in any protected class.

A federal jury in Detroit just provided employers a very real reminder of this fact.

It tagged Ford Motor Co. with a $16.8 million verdict. The plaintiff, a former Ford engineer, proved that the automaker created a hostile work environment based his Arab background.

The Detroit Free Press fills in the details:
“There was a high-level executive at Ford Motor Co. that my client reported to … that would berate him and criticize him week after week about his English,” said Carol Laughbaum of Sterling Attorneys. Khalaf, who was born in Lebanon, had been with Ford since 1999.

“It wasn’t a matter of ‘Please, can you repeat this?’ but ‘What is wrong with you? Why don’t you understand this?’ ” Laughbaum said, noting that her client’s supervisor, who has since retired, would “literally pound his fist on the table and yell” at Khalaf over his English. … 
The trial shed light on other problematic workplace practices, according to Laughbaum. She said Fowler, during a high-level executive meeting, handed her client a note that simply read “S 2+2.” Khalaf, who holds a PhD in industrial engineering, later found out that the note meant: “Small coffee, two sugars, 2 creams.”

We’ve spent so much mental energy and workplace capital focusing on sexual harassment that it’s easy to lose focus on the myriad other classes of unlawful harassment—race, national origin, religion, age, disability, etc.

This large verdict serves as an excellent reminder.