Thursday, July 31, 2008

Can You Circumvent Your Supervisor, If They Are Harassing You?

When employees complain of harassment, it isn’t uncommon for a supervisor to be named as the person committing potentially illegal behavior. Harassment by a supervisor is an extremely tough situation for any employee to deal with.

A supervisor conducts performance evaluations and makes decisions regarding promotions and salary increases. Supervisors also have the power/control over an employee’s daily work assignments and are able to judge an employee’s success and failure at completing any assigned tasks. Supervisors can impact an employee’s work environment, making it pleasant or hostile and offensive.

When things go wrong with a supervisor, an employee has to think about all of the areas that can negatively change based on a deterioration of the relationship. So, if your supervisor begins harassing you or retaliating against you for making complaints about some problem in the office, you may be torn between reporting the problem and remaining silent and just letting the supervisor feel like they’ve won the battle.

For those employees choosing not to remain silent, the issue becomes…

Well, who do I report my supervisor to? Do I have to report the problem to my supervisor’s supervisor? What if they are extremely close and that person is likely to believe the supervisor’s version of events, instead of mine? How far up the chain of command can I go? Should I just go to Human Resources? Will my supervisor be pissed off at me for reporting a problem outside of the department?

These are very real/legitimate questions and concerns.

I’ve been harassed by a supervisor, who was doing so with the approval of our department’s director. I couldn’t possibly report the harassment to my supervisor because she was the culprit. I couldn’t go to my director because I knew she gave her blessings for my supervisor to target me. So, where did that leave me?

Well, I decided to report the issue to my HR Rep. To make a long story short, my supervisor didn’t like that I went over her head and my employer had a vested interest in supporting her because the order to target me came from higher-up within the company. So, I ended up being accused of jumping the chain-of-command and causing “great concern and upset” throughout the company simply because I filed a complaint.

I wasn’t surprised that my employer was trying to conceal the actions they were taking regarding my employment. My supervisor was a mid-level manager and she was being rewarded and protected for towing the company line. So, they accused me of jumping the chain-of-command. But, they should have planned their lies a bit better. Instead, my employer contradicted that claim by saying I should have gone directly to HR with my concerns, which is what I did. Maybe they meant to say I should have gone straight to my director, but they failed to make that assertion. So, their lie confirmed that I took the right action.

Anyway, I decided to look into it and went to the EEOC web site for more information about this issue. What are the guidelines for reporting harassment from a supervisor? Is it ever okay to jump the chain-of-command?

What I found, will be shared in tomorrow’s post, so check back!

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

LEGAL BRIEF: Black, Female Technical Inspector Files $250,000,000 Discrimination Suit Against NASCAR

Chicago Tribune Wire Reports--Mauricia Grant, has filed a $250,000,000 lawsuit against NASCAR allegeding race and sex discrimination. Ms. Grant, African American, worked as a technical inspector responsible for certifying cars in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series. She worked for NASCAR from January 2005 until she was fired in October 2007, a couple of months after complaining about her mistreatment.

Ms. Grant says she was often called "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba" by her co-workers, had to listen to KKK references from an official, and was repeatedly told that she was on colored people time. Additionally, coworkers made sexual advances to her and exposed their private parts to her.

After complaining to supervisors, she was told that her coworkers were “former military guys” and they just had a rough sense of humor. According to the Chicago Tribune, the lawsuit states:

-- Grant was forced to work outside more often than the white male officials because her supervisors believed she couldn't sunburn because she was black.

-- While riding in the backseat of her car pool at Talladega Superspeedway, co-workers told her to duck as they passed race fans. "I don't want to start a riot when these fans see a black woman in my car," she claims one official said.

-- When packing up a dark garage at Texas Motor Speedway an official told Grant: "Keep smiling and pop your eyes out 'cause we can't see you."

-- When she ignored advances from co-workers, Grant was accused of being gay. She also claimed co-workers questioned the sexual orientation of two other female officials.

Source: Tribune Wire Reports, June 10, 2008,,0,5812051.story

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EEOC Has a New Commissioner

WASHINGTON – Constance S. Barker has been sworn in as a Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. Ms. Barker was nominated by President George W. Bush on March 31, 2008, and unanimously confirmed by the Senate on June 27 to serve the remainder of a five-year term expiring on July 1, 2011.

"We are delighted to welcome Commissioner Barker to the EEOC,” agency Chair Naomi C. Earp said. “Her knowledge and experience enhances the Commission and ensures that we are best able to address the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century workplace."

Commissioner Barker joins Chair Earp, Vice Chair Leslie E. Silverman and Commissioners Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine M. Griffin on the five-member Commission. Commissioners are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to staggered five-year terms. The Commission makes equal employment opportunity policy and approves litigation in consultation with the General Counsel – currently Ronald S. Cooper.

“I’m honored to join the EEOC, and to be entrusted with a position where I will be able to play a direct role in combating workplace discrimination and advancing an America where all may compete equally,” Commissioner Barker said.

Commissioner Barker’s experience in labor and employment law includes positions in both the private and public sectors. As a shareholder at Capell & Howard, P.C. in Montgomery, Ala., she provided advice regarding the prevention of discrimination complaints and defended clients in employment discrimination lawsuits. Her public-sector experience includes four years as an assistant district attorney for the 11th and 13th Judicial Circuits of Alabama, one year as a judge for two Alabama localities, and 11 years as the general counsel for the Mobile County Public School System.

A native of Florence, Ala., Ms. Barker received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a juris doctor from the University of Alabama. She is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the U.S. District Courts for the Northern District of Alabama, Middle District of Alabama, and Southern District of Alabama. Commissioner Barker and her husband, Carl, have a daughter, Christina Aune, who is an investment banker in New York.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tangible Employment Actions

It’s time for a reminder about this common employment action:

Tangible Employment Actions

A tangible employment action is "a significant change in employment status." Characteristics of a tangible employment action are:

A tangible employment action is the means by which the supervisor brings the official power of the enterprise to bear on subordinates, as demonstrated by the following:

• it requires an official act of the enterprise;
• it usually is documented in official company records;
• it may be subject to review by higher level supervisors; and
• it often requires the formal approval of the enterprise and use of its internal processes.
• A tangible employment action usually inflicts direct economic harm.
• A tangible employment action, in most instances, can only be caused by a supervisor or other person acting with the authority of the company.

Unfulfilled threats are insufficient.

Examples of tangible employment actions include:

• hiring and firing;
• promotion and failure to promote;
• demotion;
• undesirable reassignment;
• a decision causing a significant change in benefits;
• compensation decisions; and
• work assignment.

Any employment action qualifies as "tangible" if it results in a significant change in employment status. For example, significantly changing an individual's duties in his or her existing job constitutes a tangible employment action regardless of whether the individual retains the same salary and benefits. Similarly, altering an individual's duties in a way that blocks his or her opportunity for promotion or salary increases also constitutes a tangible employment action.

On the other hand, an employment action does not reach the threshold of "tangible" if it results in only an insignificant change in the complainant's employment status. For example, altering an individual's job title does not qualify as a tangible employment action if there is no change in salary, benefits, duties, or prestige, and the only effect is a bruised ego. However, if there is a significant change in the status of the position because the new title is less prestigious and thereby effectively constitutes a demotion, a tangible employment action would be found.


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Monday, July 28, 2008

Opposition to Discrimination

According to the EEOC, protected activity includes opposition to a practice that is believed to be unlawful discrimination. Opposition can be shown simply by informing an employer that you believe that he/she is engaging in prohibited discrimination.

Opposition is protected from retaliation as long as it is based on a reasonable, good-faith belief that the complained of practice violates anti-discrimination law; and the manner of the opposition is reasonable. Examples of protected opposition include:

-- Complaining to anyone about alleged discrimination against oneself or others;

-- Threatening to file a charge of discrimination (e.g., an internal or external complaint);

-- Picketing in opposition to discrimination; or

-- Refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory.

The anti-retaliation provisions make it unlawful to discriminate against an individual because s/he has opposed any practice made unlawful under the employment discrimination statutes. This protection applies if an individual explicitly or implicitly communicates to his or her employer or other covered entity a belief that its activity constitutes a form of employment discrimination that is covered by any of the statutes enforced by the EEOC.

Because individuals often may not know the specific requirements of the anti-discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC, they may make broad or ambiguous complaints of unfair treatment. Such a protest is protected opposition if the complaint would reasonably have been interpreted as opposition to employment discrimination.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Filing Complaints With a Federal Agency

This information is from the EEOC (

Overview on the process for filing a complaint against a Federal Agency:

Employees or applicants who believe that they have been discriminated against by a federal agency have the right to file a complaint with that agency. The first step is to contact an EEO Counselor at the agency within 45 days of the discriminatory action. The individual may choose to participate in either counseling, or in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)* when the agency offers ADR. Ordinarily, counseling must be completed within 30 days and ADR within 90 days. At the end of counseling, or if ADR is unsuccessful, the individual may then file a complaint with the agency.

If the matter is not resolved in the ADR process within 90 days of the date the individual contacted the agency's EEO office, a Notice of Final Interview must be issued to the individual giving him or her the right to proceed with a formal complaint.

A formal complaint must be filed with the agency that allegedly discriminated against the complainant within 15 days of receipt of the Notice of Final Interview. The complaint must be a signed statement from the complainant or the complainant's attorney, containing the complainant's (or representative's) telephone number and address, and must be sufficiently precise to identify the complainant and the agency, and describe generally the action or practice which forms the basis of the complaint.

A complainant may amend a complaint at any time prior to the conclusion of the investigation to include issues or claims like or related to those raised in the complaint. After requesting a hearing, a complainant may file a motion with the AJ to amend a complaint to include issues or claims like or related to those raised in the complaint.

The agency must acknowledge receipt of the complaint in writing and inform the complainant of the date on which the complaint was filed, of the address of the EEOC office where a request for a hearing should be sent, that the complainant has the right to appeal the agency's final action or dismissal of a complaint, and that the agency must investigate the complaint within 180 days of the filing date. The agency's acknowledgment must also advise the complainant that when a complaint has been amended, the agency must complete the investigation within the earlier of: (1) 180 days after the last amendment to the complaint; or (2) 360 days after the filing of the original complaint. A complainant may request a hearing from an EEOC AJ on the consolidated complaints any time after 180 days from the date of the first filed complaint.

You Can Appeal to EEOC

A dissatisfied complainant may appeal to EEOC an agency's final action within 30 days of receipt and an agency may appeal a decision by an EEOC administrative judge within 40 days of receiving the administrative judge's decision.

*Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) - Beginning January 1, 2000 all agencies were required to establish or make available an ADR program. Such program must be available for both the pre-complaint process and the formal complaint process. At the initial counseling session, counselors must advise individuals that, where an agency agrees to offer ADR in a particular case, the individual may choose between participation in the ADR program and EEO counseling. If the matter is not resolved in the ADR process within 90 days of the date the individual contacted the agency's EEO office, a Notice of Final Interview must be issued to the individual giving him or her the right to proceed with a formal complaint.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frustrations of a Black Worker

I spoke to a friend on the phone, last night, who I hadn’t spoken to in about 3 years. He moved away to Denver, Colorado to take a great position in a biology lab. After finding his phone number and reconnecting with him, one of the first things he said is, “I’m moving back home.” I asked if he was homesick. But, that wasn’t the reason he was heading back to the Washington, DC Metro area. He said the reason he was going home was that just couldn’t take the White people he was working with anymore.

I asked him what was up and began to describe the White folks at HIS job. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “They don’t listen to anything you say, they only hear what they want, they only want you to do what they want, they want you to do it how they would do it, and I am sick and f’ing tired of how they just keep sticking up for each other. They can be dead wrong, know they’re dead wrong, and will still stand in your face pretending you’re the one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They will mind somebody else’s business, just to get in there and stick up for somebody and they don’t even know what’s going on. I’m done with these White people out here. It’s time to get back to DC.” He was quiet for a few moments and then he said, “You just don’t know.”

Unfortunately, I’m sure many of us have felt that same frustration at one point or another. And, it always feels like you’re the only one going through something like that. It feels like no one understands what you’re dealing with. It feels like no one is listening to you.

I’ve gone through the same thing. I gave up my job in DC because I just couldn’t take it anymore after filing my complaint with the Office of Human Rights. My health, my sanity, everything was under attack. I had to start over somewhere else. I had to go somewhere where I had a true support system. For me, home was NY. For him it is DC.

It’s not about running away from problems. But, when you are living in another state, away from friends and family, dealing with race-based issues can take an even greater toll because you don’t have your peoples right there to have your back.

My complaint was filed on my last day of employment, so I thought I’d use today’s post to remind people of some of the type’s of incidents to track at work. There are far too many people who can't vindicate their rights because they didn't keep a record of the information that would have been most valuable to an investigator or lawyer. Here's the list:

-- Unequal or Illegal Treatment in the Workplace

-- A Significant Change to Your Job Status

-- A Hostile Work Environment/ Bullying and Threats (threatening stares and behavior, insults and name-calling, eye-rolling, being ignored when speaking to an individual or at meetings, a bully going out of his/her way to encroach upon your personal space, etc.)

-- Having Your Job Threatened

-- Physical Violence (people intentionally banging into you, being shoved, being slapped, etc.)

-- Having Items Thrown at You/ Temper Tantrums/ Yelling and Shouting (in front of staff and privately)

-- Patently Malicious and False Performance Reviews/False Claims of Incompetence and Performance Deficiencies

-- Being Bombarded with Meaningless and Unnecessary Assignments to Prevent You from Doing Your Job/Being Set Up for Failure

-- Repeatedly and Intentionally Being Given Deadlines that You Can’t Meet/Being Set Up for Failure

-- The Malicious Destruction of Your Reputation

-- Personal Attacks/Attacks Based on Stereotypes and Racist Assumptions

-- The Baseless Denial of Company Benefits and Resources/Punishment

-- Being Given Demeaning Assignments/Punishment

-- Racial Epithets and Slang

-- Racially Charged Comments and Questions

-- Slander and Character Assassination/Malicious Gossip

-- Acts of Intentional Humiliation

-- Blatant Lies and Misrepresentation of Facts

-- Being Blamed For Mistakes Caused by Others

-- Your Confidential Information Is Shared with Staff

-- Having Administrative Forms Altered or Forged (timesheets, leave slips, etc.)

-- Being Isolated (forced to only work on “Black Projects,” physical isolation
from other staff, forced to work at a hard to reach location, etc.)

-- No Opportunity to Advance (list the reasons given to deny you a promotion, whether anyone has ever discussed promotions with you, and whether anyone has discussed and identified what you need to do in order to be promoted)

-- Being Denied Training Offered To Other Staff

-- Fabricated “Witness” Statements (a company may have coworkers prepare false statements against you to use as justification for targeting you or making claims of performance deficiencies)

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Post on Thursday

Sorry, I had unexpected medical appts and haven't been able to post for the past two days. Hours of my life spent in waiting rooms! There will be a new post tomorrow, Thursday.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Red Flag Words That Can Create Idea You've Had a Pattern of Bad Behavior or Performance

In order to figure out if you are being documented at work as a poor performer/under-achiever or as a behavior problem, one of the things you have to look at is whether or not you are being documented--in writing. It's bad enough to have false allegations made face-to-face, but it's another more troubling problem to have those lies put to paper. Written documentation of so-called poor performance or behavior issues can lead to written warnings, probation, suspension, demotions, and even termination.

If you believe you are being documented with a false pattern of problems, if you believe minor behavior problems are being exaggerated (regarding the length of the so-called problem and/or severity of the problem), and if you believe you are being set up for employment actions, you need to decide how you are going to respond. Any false allegations can come back to haunt you. For instance on performance evaluations.

One of my coworkers received a memo that attributed the typographical errors of other staff to her. It was known that she did not make these mistakes. However, she was told, in writing, that this lack of quality control was unacceptable and that she caused the company embarassment with the client, time, and money to correct the mistakes.

My coworker continued to be accused of making such errors because it helped show a pattern of negative behavior that was later used as part of the justification to place her on probation and threaten her with termination. She ended up receiving various performance deficiency memos that were nothing but a laundry list of false claims made out to look like substantial problems she'd been having for a lengthy period of time. She was also made to appear to not be showing any improvement on correcting the false behavior.

I wanted to list, as I've done in the past, a series of words or phrases that should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Some of the red flag words and phrases include:

• “Consistently” or “often” or “frequently” or “repeatedly” or “chronically” or “habitually,” etc. - The point is that you have allegedly demonstrated a pattern of making the same mistake or exhibiting the same negative behavior, such as demonstrating a bad poor attitude, arriving to work late, missing deadlines, etc.

• “I’ve noticed…” – For the same reason as above.

• “Many people…” or “Some people…” or “A number of people…” or “Everyone” - The point is to show that there is corroboration for the accusation. It’s not just one person’s point of view that you have a problem--everyone or many people allegedly believe the same thing. People making this statement, generally won’t name names, they’ll just make a blanket statement about so-called mass perceptions about you.

• “I’ve talked to you in the past about…” - The point is not just to criticize you, but to show that you have shown no improvement in some negative behavior that was previously brought to your attention.

• “I’m concerned by…” or “I’m puzzled by…” or “I’m troubled by…” - The point is to show that there is something extremely off-putting or unprofessional about your behavior and that it likely represents a potentially major problem.

• “If you would have…” or “If you had only” or “I thought that you…” - The point is the “you” part of the sentence because the writer is stating that you are solely to blame for something going wrong.

These are just examples of some subtle ways that you can be documented for performance deficiencies at work. If the allegation isn’t true, this represents a potentially devastating problem; in terms of your ability to maintain a positive reputation and any impact the misrepresentations may have your performance evaluations, etc.

Receiving one criticism may not be a big deal, even though it could represent someone’s effort to document you. It’s the form that the criticism takes that makes a written complaint have the potential to be extremely damaging to your reputation. It’s one thing to be told that you have missed a deadline, but it’s another to be told that you “consistently” miss deadlines.

Please note: An insolated incidence of criticism usually has no right to appear in your performance evaluation, even if it did involve major issue. Normally, any atypical behavior is included in the notes/comments of a performance evaluation. Therefore, if an incident was isolated, your review should not be tainted to make it appear as if this was a recurring problem. It can be noted on your evaluation, but your review should be reflective of your consistent and normal work performance.

Always read your email or memos carefully. Look at the words that precede and follow criticisms! Understand when you are being documented and you can get on the offensive and, hopefully, derail the train that’s headed in your direction. Respond to the email with facts. Don’t attack the sender; simply clarify what you believe to be false about their criticism. But, don’t be defensive.

Black people have a fine line to tread between explaining something and being called defensive. Apparently, White people explain and Black people defend! So, briefly make your point, professionally, and move on!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Give Me Your Passwords!

A friend of mine is experiencing race-related harassment at work. She filed a formal complaint against her supervisor and the situated immediately escalated. HR tried to intervene, but the supervisor said that she wasn’t interested in sitting down in a meeting with my friend to discuss or resolve the issues.

So, it was only a short period of time before my friend was approached by the computer tech guy at their small office. He wanted to know the password to her computer and her password to access voicemail on her phone.

My friend informed the person that based on the situation at work she wasn’t comfortable giving out her password information.

But, let’s think about what’s going on:

In the midst of a race-related dispute, all of a sudden the supervisor wants her passwords? Why? Is my friend going to be fired and they want to easily get into her computer and phone, when she’s gone?

Think about it. It’s just the height of laziness. A computer tech should be able to get into any company computer. Just like they do when people forget their password and they reset the computer account.

So, maybe it’s not laziness. Maybe it’s about intimidation and threats to her job security. Maybe it’s about creating a hostile and offensive work environment by letting her know she was being subjected to heightened scrutiny and observation?

Whatever the reason, they’ll have to explain it to EEOC. My friend is scheduled to file a complaint today.

I don’t know why these companies allow supervisors, manager, directors, etc. to get them into legal jeopardy, when there is always a way to get around these issues if they are addressed fairly and head on. We’ll see what happens!

How would you respond to a request for your passwords? Post a comment!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Compensation Discrimination - Part 2

When the EEOC is investigating compensation discrimination, they look at a few things that you can examine yourself.

1) What are similarly situated employees (same job, job classification, job level, etc.) being paid? Can you show that your White counterparts are making more money than you?

2) Can your employer reasonably defend the difference in pay status for similar employees? Is there a legitimate non-race related reason for the pay discrepancy being offered by your employer?

3) What do statistics show? This may be hard for an employee to figure out on their own, unless they have access to pay information. However, an investigator may look at statistics related to pay by going through payroll data at your company.

Statistics allows one to determine whether differences between a protected class target group and a comparison group are "statistically significant," i.e., whether the difference could not be expected to have occurred by chance. This differs from the basic comparison of raw numbers or percentages, which is known as descriptive statistics.

Other things to consider with pay discrimination are that employers have long played the education game to explain pay discrepancies. For instance, a White new hire with a college degree and no experience in the field may make $10,000 or more than a Black worker with no degree, but many years of hands-on expertise in the field. Even though the White worker may not be able to perform their job without training and assistance from the non-degreed Black worker, they may make significantly more money. This may or may not be legitimate depending on the nature of the job and the minimum qualifications required for the position.

In fact, minimum objective qualifications, such as specialized licenses or certifications should and can be taken into account. But, the EEOC says that persons in jobs requiring certain minimum objective qualifications should not be grouped together with persons in jobs that do not require those qualifications, even though the jobs otherwise are similar. In other words, employees in similar jobs can’t necessarily be grouped together or divided based on education, licenses, etc. It all depends on the minimum qualifications for those jobs.

While differences in qualifications, experience, and education ultimately may explain a pay differential, it’s not automatic that these are reasons that fully address salary differences. These factors may just be a pretext or cover story to conceal the true motive for pay discrepancies, race-related discrimination.

You can take a look at the first two areas (what are people making in the same or similar jobs and what are your employer's reasons for salary differences) and then see if you are on to something regarding potential pay discrimination.

If you have identified a potential issue, you can talk to your HR department for a detailed explanation of pay differences or you can speak to your supervisor, manager or the director of your department.

You have a right to know why you are making less money than other employees. If a group of Black employees is making less than White employees, who are doing the same job, then that is a legitimate area of concern that should be addressed.

If you ask questions and become subjected to a hostile work environment for rocking the boat (regarding salary), you can contact an agency like EEOC for assistance or you can seek legal counsel to protect yourself and to resolve the issue.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Compensation Discrimination

According to the EEOC: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination in "compensation" based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or protected activity. The term "compensation" includes any payments made to, or on behalf of, an employee as remuneration for employment. Compensation discrimination in violation of Title VII, the ADEA, or the ADA can exist in a number of forms:

An employer pays employees inside a protected class less than similarly situated employees outside the protected class, and the employer's explanation (if any) does not satisfactorily account for the differential (e.g., Black workers make less than White workers in the same job/classification without cause);

An employer maintains a neutral compensation policy or practice that has an adverse impact on employees in a protected class and cannot be justified as job-related and consistent with business necessity (e.g., an employer claims there’s a non-race related job or business need that explains why White staff make more than Black staff and this reason is the cause of pay disparity, according to the employer);

An employer sets the pay for jobs predominantly held by protected class members below that suggested by the employer's job evaluation study, while the pay for jobs predominantly held by employees outside the protected class is consistent with the level suggested by the job evaluation study (e.g., Black workers are paid below the market rate and maybe below the minimum rate for positions predominately held by Black workers, while an employer properly pays or overcompensates White workers based on the market rates for their jobs);

A discriminatory compensation system has been discontinued, but salary disparities caused by the system have not been eradicated (e.g., pay disparities have been identified and the compensation system has been fixed, however the pay levels of the discriminated employees have not been properly adjusted to fix the errors identified in the pay system); or

The compensation of one or more employees in a protected class is artificially depressed because of a discriminatory employer practice that affects compensation, such as steering employees in a protected class to lower paid jobs than persons outside the class, or discriminating in promotions, performance appraisals, procedures for assigning work, or training opportunities. (e.g., manipulating performance evaluations, denying training opportunities and giving out menial assignments, etc. as a mechanism to underpay and stifle the pay of Black workers or keeping Black staff in lower paying jobs by not posting internal job vacancies, denying Black workers promotions, setting unequal, corruptible, and lax promotion criteria, having double-standards for promotions, denying transfers, etc. as a means of holding back the pay of Black workers).

There will be more on compensation discrimination tomorrow.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Proactive Prevention By Employers

Employers shouldn’t wait for race-based problems to crop up in the workplace. Instead, they should be proactive in trying to prevent any race-based harassment of employees in their workforce.

To protect employees from unlawful racial (and other) harassment, employers should adopt a strong anti-harassment policy, periodically train each employee on its contents and procedures, and vigorously follow and enforce it. The policy should contain:

• A clear explanation of prohibited conduct, including examples;

• Clear assurance that employees who make complaints or provide information related to complaints will be protected against retaliation;

• A clearly described complaint process that provides multiple, accessible avenues of complaint;

• Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible;

• A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation; and

• Assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred.

If you are the victim of race-based harassment and retaliation in the workplace, look at these areas to determine where you believe your employer failed. This may be a part of the case you build against your employer, should you decide to vindicate your rights through an outside investigating agency or through a lawyer.

For example, if you file a complaint of harassment and your employer spreads the word, you could argue that your employer assisted in the creation of a hostile work environment by failing to provide you with any measure of confidentiality and allowing your harasser to learn of your actions, to escalate those actions, and to turn other employees against you.

Another example might be that your employer determines that a coworker has been harassing you, but does nothing to the employee because they are working on a major contract and are valuable to the organization. Having gotten away with harassing you, the employee continues to engage in the attacks against you. Even if they had not, the employer sent the message that it was okay to engage in illegal activity.

One of the best things you can do, if you are filing a complaint against an employer, is to have a clear understanding of company policies and procedures and to use those policies and procedures against your employer at every opportunity. It is very powerful to be able to show that your employer's written anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies amount to a paper tiger.

Written policies don’t protect an employer. If their processes are deficient and if they ignore their own policies, they may be held legally liable for any violations of Federal statutes.

Know the policies and procedures, know your rights, and show the contradictions or lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation provisions.


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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Problem With Word-Of-Mouth Referrals

I worked in an HR Department that was really into using word-of-mouth referrals to get new hires into the company. Word-of-mouth referrals were actually used more than looking within the company to hire employees or posting ads in newspapers.

The problem was that the referrals were always made by White staff and the potential new hires were always White, as well. As a result, the company was always bringing in White new hires and there was absolutely no push to add diversity to the staff. With about 150 employees at our location, less than 10 of those people were Black. And, we didn’t get close to the number 10 until a former African American employee filed a complaint of race-based retaliation and the company wanted to put on a stronger diversity show for the Office of Human Rights, who was investigating her case.

Compounding the problem of focusing on word-of-mouth referrals, my employer also didn’t post in-house notices of job vacancies. So, staff never knew when a job opportunity opened up (read: a potential promotion opportunity or career path change), unless they were told about it by a member of management. This was rare. And, in cases where this happened, White staff would be told to apply for a job opening and Black staff had no idea the opportunity existed to apply for the position. Most staff were being deprived of the opportunity to apply for any of these positions.

Behaviors such as relying on word-of-mouth referrals and not posting internal job vacancies may both be signs of an employer who engages in discrimination. According to the EEOC:

While word-of-mouth recruiting in a racially diverse workforce can be an effective way to promote diversity, the same method of recruiting in a non-diverse workforce is a barrier to equal employment opportunity if it does not create applicant pools that reflect the diversity in the qualified labor market.

If you believe your employer discriminates, these may be two areas to look at in order to show a pattern of problem behavior by your employer (selecting/evaluating new hires and promotions/in-house job openings).


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IN THE NEWS: Black Residents Awarded $11,000,000 for Racially Discriminatory Denial of Water Services

On Friday, residents of a mostly Black rural Ohio neighborhood were awarded $11,000,000 for decades of being denied water services due to racially discriminatory motives. The residents of Coal Run either had to pay to get wells dug, hauled water or collected rain water in order to drink, cook, and bathe.

A jury found that failure to provide water services violated state and Federal civil rights laws.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Let Go and Let God!

Let Go and Let God!

That’s a motivating sentiment. Don’t dwell on your problems.

God has the answers.

Everything will be alright.

Let Go! Let Go! Let Go!

To some of us that just means…Do nothing! Do nothing! Do nothing!

To some African Americans, that expression means that we should sit back and do nothing because God will handle it all.

My pastor used to say, “You have to make a step towards God and then He’ll make two steps towards you.” He spoke of physics and the fact that matter can’t occupy the same space at the same time. He said people resisted getting rid of something bad, but by doing so there was no room in their life for something good to take its place. He talked about holding on to dead-end jobs that were killing us just as much as he talked about hanging on to a man that was no good. He talked about freeing ourselves of the evil and negativity in our lives. He spoke of walking by faith and not by sight.

Yes, God has the master plan. But, relinquishing control to God, who’s in control 24/7, doesn’t mean just sitting around and praying for His intervention.

During the Civil Rights Era, our church leaders didn’t just make speeches from the pulpits. They organized boycotts and marches and got involved in the political process. They didn’t just talk about social and economic justice, they did something about it! They believed in action--non-violent action--that could change the life of the masses.

Those of us who are religious or spiritual should rely on our faith, in good times and bad times. But, don’t use faith as an excuse. Live in reality, look in the mirror, and ask yourself what you can and are willing to do to improve your situation.

Have faith that God wants you to take responsibility for your life! Decide what must be done and do it!

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IN THE NEWS: The American Medical Association Apologizes For Its History of Racial Inequality

CHICAGO, Ill. – Yesterday, the American Medical Association (AMA) apologized for its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians, and shared its current efforts to increase the ranks of minority physicians and their participation in the AMA. In 2005, the AMA convened and supported an independent panel of experts to study the history of the racial divide in organized medicine, and the culmination of this work prompted the apology. Details of the panel’s work will be made public next week on the Web site of the AMA’s Institute for Ethics to coincide with publication in a scientific journal.

"The AMA is proud to support research about the history of the racial divide in organized medicine because by confronting the past we can embrace the future," said AMA Immediate-Past President Ronald M. Davis, M.D. "The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America’s patients."

The AMA created the Minority Affairs Consortium (MAC) to address the specific needs of minority physicians and to stimulate and support efforts to train more minority physicians. The philanthropic arm of the AMA each year provides $10,000 scholarships to medical student winners of the AMA Foundation Minority Scholars Award, in collaboration with the MAC. This year, 12 students received the award.

"Five years ago, the AMA joined with the National Medical Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association to create the Commission to End Health Care Disparities," said Dr. Davis. "Our goal is to identify and study racial and ethnic health care disparities in order to eradicate them. We strongly support the ‘Doctors Back to School’ program, which the AMA founded, to inspire minority students to become the next generation of minority physicians."

The Doctors Back to School program, which was developed by the AMA and adopted by the Commission, has visited more than 100 schools, ranging from elementary schools to undergraduate colleges, nationwide. The program has reached out to nearly 13,000 students to urge them to consider a career in medicine. More information about the program and the Commission are available on the AMA Web site.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Force Coworkers To Commit Facts To Writing

One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in the workplace was how many Black workers were able to just sit back and watch a Black manager (and good friend to all of them) be falsely accused of causing problems in the workplace and how many of them allowed themselves to be used in the false allegations.

When my friend was under attack, her subordinates signed statements written by White managers that accused her of mistreating them. Other Black staff in her department allowed White managers to say that they had made verbal complaints about her, when they did not. They made no moves to correct the statements being attributed to them. Black staff took money, bribes (tickets to sports events), etc. all at the expense of this Black manager.

“I don’t know anything,” was a common remark from many of these staff members. Then, they’d turn around and gossip about what they knew. They had no shame in the fact that they knew they were withholding information that could have exonerated the Black manager.

So, my strategy for dealing with people like this is for you to attempt to engage them in written conversations about what is going on at work. The moment you see that you are engaged in some sort of race-based issue at work, try to force your allies, friends, coworkers, etc. to comment on the issue in writing.

Why do I suggest this?

For the reasons detailed above. Many of these people may never admit to what they know, when they are questioned about what happened in the office. Or, these “friends” and coworkers may lie for professional gain or just because.

So, when something happens, hit a witness with an email asking, “Can you believe what just happened?” Or, “Did you hear what she said?” Obviously, this works well with staff you already have a positive relationship with and with whom you have a history of discussing sensitive or personal issues.

Slip in some discussions about specific events and comments. Let the person go along with it. Later, if the person claims to not know anything, you’ve got contradictory written evidence—from them! If the person lies and/or tries to set you up on behalf of the company, you can also show how they are changing their story. The emails can be included as submissions to EEOC, a lawyer, etc. People can be subpoenaed in a complaint or legal case to provide testimony.

Regardless of what the person says, written exchanges about events can corroborate your version of events.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

QUICK TIPS: Don't Ask For Legal Advice Or Referrals At Work!

If you're dealing with race-based discrimination, harassment or retaliation at work, you should avoid trolling around for legal resources at work. Don't ask coworkers if they know a lawyer you can use to go after your employer, don't do Internet searches for employment lawyers at work, and don't ask for legal advice that pertains to filing a complaint against an employer. All of these things will likely get back to your employer because staff may feel they must tell a supervisor, manager, etc. what you are planning to do. Staff may think they can get a reward for disclosing your plans (e.g., a bonus, salary increase, promotion, etc.) Or, staff may just feel like spreading gossip (so and so is getting ready to sue the company).

Don't give your power away by providing fodder for office gossip or by telegraphing to your employer that you plan to file a complaint with EEOC, a lawyer, etc. Your search for a lawyer and guidance on employment issues should be done on your personal time and outside of the office. Many employers use software that records keystrokes and they can also see every web site employees visit.

Maintain a healthy dose of paranoia. When it comes to even the possibility of vindicating your employment rights, keep your plans private!

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Be More Specific Than Calling It "Bullying"

When people become a target at work, one of the first words that may cross their mind to describe their mistreatment is "bullying." The only problem with that is that workplace bullying really isn't legislated at this time. A number of states (I believe about 13) have anti-bullying legislation in the pipeline. However, none of the bills have been passed into law.

As African Americans, this doesn't really create a problem for us because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has clear language in it that prohibits what we could call "bullying behavior" against protected classes of people. The actions of racist bullies, which amounts to creating a hostile and offensive work environment for a coworker and to harassing a coworker, falls under discrimination. Discrimination includes not only harassment, but also retaliation. Harassment includes being subjected to a hostile and offensive work environment. But, the mistreatment can't be minor or isolated. The mistreatment must rise to the standard that it has changed your work environment in a negative manner and made it nearly impossible for you to do your job.

If you've become the target of one or more bullies a.k.a. workplace racists, don't focus on calling the actions bullying. Stick to the terminology that exists in Federal law and that has been designed to protect you. So, you want to talk about a hostile work environment and describe what is happening, such as being ignored, when you speak at meetings, being humiliated in front of coworkers, being subjected to threats and job intimidation, etc.

The point is, you want to use specific language that is relevant to the circumstances in your case. Leave the blanket statements to your employer!

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LEGAL BRIEF: Co-Worker Rapped Racial Slurs Despite Complaints—Black Worker Awarded $168,000 Settlement

The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, as well as an idea about the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. You will also get insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to other workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel. In this case, a Black worker was subjected to listening to rap music with offensive language and racial epithets. He was also forced to listen to a coworker rapping along to the music and using racial slang within earshot.

SAN JOSE – A major Silicon Valley manufacturer of semiconductor production equipment will pay $168,000 to settle a racial harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC had charged Novellus Systems, Inc. with subjecting an African American worker to racial harassment.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Michael Cooke had to listen on a regular basis to a 27-year-old Vietnamese American co-worker playing and rapping aloud to music lyrics that included anti-black racial epithets such as the “N-word.”

Although Cooke complained several times to his supervisors and made it clear that the language was offensive to him, the co-worker continued to use slang involving racial slurs and to sing along to these kinds of lyrics within Cooke’s earshot.

The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that delaying effective corrective action by more than half a year constitutes unlawful harassment, and that Cooke was fired in retaliation for his earlier complaints.

The two-year consent decree (Case No. C-07-4787-JW) signed by U.S. District Court Judge James Ware includes monetary damages of $168,000 as well as specific injunctive relief. While Novellus denied liability and admitted no wrongdoing, it agreed to incorporate a “Statement of Zero-Tolerance Policy and Equality Objectives” in its Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policy. Additionally, Novellus agreed to amend its harassment policy to refer specifically to harassment through the playing of music, and to include offensive musical lyrics in its examples of racial harassment.

“The EEOC is not in the business of judging anyone’s musical tastes, but we are concerned when we find that an employer failed to respond promptly after being put on notice of racially offensive language or conduct in the workplace,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. “We commend the company for resolving this action and for agreeing to modify its anti-discrimination policies to include a specific prohibition of the playing of music lyrics that contain racially derogatory terms.”

Acting EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado commented, “This is the kind of situation that many Bay Area workplaces, as well as the rest of the country face: How do you manage the culture clash – across generations, race and ethnicity, you name it – in a workplace that gets more diverse every day? I think it’s critical to try to put yourself into the shoes of the other person and take all complaints of discrimination seriously. Together we can try to defuse tensions and prevent situations from developing into discrimination and harassment.”

Baldonado added that the EEOC welcomes employers and advocates to take part in its E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment). Launched early last year by EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp, E-RACE, a national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focuses on new and emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace. Further information about the E-RACE Initiative is available on the EEOC’s website at

According to its website, San Jose, Calif.- headquartered Novellus (NASDAQ: NVLS) maintains engineering facilities in San Jose and Tualatin, Ore., with sales and service operations in 16 countries around the world. Novellus has approximately 3,300 employees worldwide and annual revenues of $1.6 billion.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The San Francisco District’s jurisdiction includes Northern California, Northern Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Snoop Around The Printers

I had a conversation with a friend, last night, and learned that she found some interesting pieces of evidence to use against her supervisor. You see, her supervisor has been creating a hostile and offensive work environment because my friend was complaining about conditions at the workplace. So, her supervisor has been going out of her way to antagonize my friend and has even told her that she will be evaluated on things such as her “soul” for her performance review.

In the midst of all this scheming, the supervisor inadvertently left a document at the printer containing her plans for setting up my friend for termination. This included creating documentation to put in her personnel file, as well as the intent to hold a fraudulent meeting to discuss the fraudulent performance deficiencies. That would be followed by a meeting, a few days later, to terminate my friend.

In other words, the supervisor was going to put memos and other written evidence into my friend’s personnel file, was going to meet with her to discuss her so-called performance problems, and then was going to tell her that she showed no improvement or deteriorated in the areas of concern that were addressed. Even though she was making fraudulent claims, she wasn’t even going to pretend to give my friend a chance to improve. The termination was all planned out to happen over the course of about 1-2 weeks.

All this information was just lying around on the countertop by the printer.

This is not the first time that I’ve seen members of management careless enough to leave incriminating evidence just lying around the office in plain view of staff. That is why today’s suggestion is….


If you’re having problems at work, you should be acting like a private investigator. You should be seeking any information you can use against a coworker, supervisor or anyone else who is discriminating against you, harassing you and/or retaliating against you.

If you’re at the printer, sneak a peek at everything coming off the printer. Even if someone is there, you can pick up the document, look at it, and hand it to them if it belongs to them. If it doesn’t, you can still look at it and place it on the countertop. You are simply waiting for your own file to come out and you have no choice but to look at the files being printed in order to claim what’s yours.

If documents have not been claimed and they are piled around the printer, take a look at every last document to see if there is anything about you or that is helpful to you.

I have gathered evidence by snooping around at the printer. Here’s how it went down.

I was accused of violating email protocol and company etiquette because I pointed out a problem on a project I worked on. The reason I was attacked was because a young, White woman was supposed to be promoted and I had pointed out a major problem with her management of a project that was going to hinder my supervisor’s ability to bump her up to the next job and salary level.

This young woman sent an email that was laying the groundwork to blame me and two other staff members for problems we’d encountered that were no one’s fault and had more to do with the poor concept of the project as opposed to poor execution of the project. I responded to the email by pointing out issues we’d been discussing in our meetings regarding why we weren’t going to be able to accommodate the client’s request and complete this project in a manner that would make the client happy. I wasn’t rude or anything. I just explained the preexisting issues that were omitted from her email.

I put in writing what I knew the team was going to be blamed for later. In other words, I beat this young, White woman to the punch. By design, there hadn’t been any documentation of the problems on the project. But, this White woman was telegraphing her escape from blame. She kept sending emails that were clearly meant to take herself out of the loop and were written as if she had no clue as to the obstacles being addressed to her and for which she was providing no leadership. She thought we were going to be scapegoats. But, once I put the issues in writing, it was impossible for her or my supervisor to say that they weren’t aware of the issues and they couldn’t say she was a good manager because she failed miserably to coordinate the project, manage client expectations, etc.

I was attacked for this email by my supervisor and the director of my department, who barged into my office, closed the door, and told me to apologize for the email. I refused to do that! I was told my email was wrong, unprofessional, rude, and violated email etiquette/company protocol. All because I explained why my team would not meet client goals and I explained the issues we were facing!!

As this issue was being disputed, I no longer worked in support of this project. So, I didn’t have any idea what was being said about me or the direction that the project was going in.

But, one day I was at the printer…

I was minding my business waiting for a document...

All of a sudden…

a document comes out that proves that everything I said about the project was true. All of the concerns I raised came to fruition. I grabbed the 2-page document and raced around the corner in the opposite direction of where I knew any of the women involved would be walking from. I folded the papers, put them in my pocket, went to another floor, made 10 copies of the document, put them in a folder, went back to my desk, put the copies in my purse, and went about my business!!

The document proved I was right! I said the deadline could not be met no matter what we did. And, I explained why. And, this document said the deadline couldn’t be met for the reasons I stated. And, the document said that a no-cost extension was going to be requested from the client to allow more time to complete the work.

And, the document said that there was a lack of resources that made it very difficult to collect the data we were instructed to compile. This is also what I explained, quite professionally, in my email.

There were many other points I made that were backed up by this document I was never supposed to see! So, while my employer was still suggesting that I was out of line and way off base regarding issues on the project, I now had written proof that I was absolutely correct. And, the proof was being sent by those attacking me for making false claims. These supposedly false claims were being verified as fact in an email and memo to our site director. That was one more nail in the coffin for my employer!!

Another story I can share, is having a coworker harassed by nasty memos and emails being intentionally left at various printers for staff to see. The memos and emails talked about this woman not knowing her job, not being liked by staff, not being liked by clients, and possibly being terminated due to incompetence. These documents included claims that she overcharged clients by working slowly and not knowing her job. And, included sarcastic comments that if you wanted to “chew through hours,” you should assign this woman to a project because she would waste time and couldn’t get anything done.

These documents were left everywhere on our floor. There is no way they weren’t intentionally left out. They were at various printers. More than one person was printing and leaving the files unclaimed. Everyone was talking about it. It got back to the woman. As a result of this behavior and other factors, she resigned about 2 months later.

In this case, documents were being left at a printer to cause someone a hostile and offensive work environment. This wasn’t an accident, where someone printed something and forgot to go get it! Despite all of the negative claims in the documents being left everywhere, no one was meeting with this woman to cite performance deficiencies. She was just having the "wagons circled around her." That was the running joke in the hallways. "Oh, they want her to leave." What this woman could have done was use the documents to show how the workplace was becoming unbearable and how she was being intentionally humiliated in front of her coworkers. She could have turned these documents into evidence.

So, my reminder for the day is that everyone should remember to be a snoop.

It is amazing what people will leave all over the office. If you see paper lying around, pick it up and take a look at what’s there. If it’s useful to you, make sure nobody is watching and just walk about with it. Put it in a file, quote from it, show it to your lawyer, forward it to EEOC or another investigatory agency, etc.

Put someone else’s carelessness or intentional malice to work for you! Snoop…eavesdrop…and do whatever it takes to build your case!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

No Post on July 4th

Have a great and safe holiday. Today's post is below.

Employers Must Look For Patterns of Harassers, Instead of Targeting Victims

Establishing patterns of prior bad acts in the workplace can help an employee demonstrate that their employer had indications that a coworker, supervisor, etc. had a history of engaging in illegal misconduct, but did nothing to prevent such behavior from happening—again. Establishing patterns of prior bad acts can also demonstrate that an employer not only ignored a problem employee or manager, but that they also may have never even attempted to correct the behavior. For instance, the harasser was never put on any warnings, placed on probation, sent to training, demoted, transferred, suspended, etc.

But, establishing patterns of negative behavior is not just the responsibility of the victim of harassment, retaliation, etc. The employer is also obligated to examine the pattern behavior of employees. When it comes to patterns of negative behavior, the EEOC says:

“Reasonable preventive measures include screening applicants for supervisory jobs to see if any have a record of engaging in harassment. If so, it may be necessary for the employer to reject a candidate on that basis or to take additional steps to prevent harassment by that individual…it is advisable for an employer to keep records of all complaints of harassment. Without such records, the employer could be unaware of a pattern of harassment by the same individual. Such a pattern would be relevant to credibility assessments and disciplinary measures.”

This all goes to show how important it is to look for prior bad acts by a harasser. But, at the same time, it shows how important it is to notify your employer/make a formal complaint of harassment, if you believe you are being subjected to a hostile and offensive work environment.

By filing a complaint against your harasser, you help to create a history of your harasser behaving in an illegal manner. If your harasser has already been on the receiving end of harassment complaints, their record of this illegal behavior will be extended to the present—as opposed to possibly years ago.

Just the fact that you made a complaint can go a long way towards helping another employee, who may find that they have the same problem with this same employee—in the future. It’s up to each of us to hold racist employees, harassers, etc. to account.

Still, even without complaints, employers are responsible for any illegal behavior that was so prevalent that members of authority/management had to have known the illegal abuse was happening!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Learn To Say "No" At Work And Check With Your Supervisor Before Taking On New Assignments

Far too many African Americans have been conditioned to believe that we can’t say “no” at work, especially to a White person. So, no matter how much our gut is telling us that something can’t be done, might be unethical, isn’t worth the reward, is redundant, should be done by someone else or another department, can’t be done in the proposed timeline (no matter how many people work on the project) or is just plain wrong, we’ll agree to do it because we are too afraid to say “no!”

But, part of any person’s job is being able to discern appropriate vs. inappropriate work, informing people of limitations they may not be aware of or are ignoring, knowing that you should not engage in unethical conduct, being able to identify work that is fiscally irresponsible, etc.

So, it’s okay to tactfully tell someone about any issues that present themselves regarding your assignments or proposed assignments.

Yes, people don’t like to hear the word, “no.” But, that’s their business. Sometimes, you have to go there. If problems are encountered and you did not speak up, you will get all or some of the blame for not saying “no” to the request or for not checking with someone else to get authorization to proceed in a certain manner. You can also get in trouble for taking on too many tasks that prevented you from concentrating on the main focus of your job. You might be blamed for not providing a warning about issues you should have foreseen based on your expertise at work. More importantly, you can be blamed for all problems that resulted from someone else’s mismanagement of a project. Snowballs roll downhill. As a result, managers will not take the blame if someone else is available to be scapegoated.

Don’t let people bog you down, who are just trying to lessen their own workload by pawning it off on someone who will do it without question. Don’t let someone bring you into a project that is already going wrong without raising some concerns about any issues taking place and getting your concerns documented (e.g., sending an email with your concerns, etc.) Don’t allow someone to convince you to do something unethical. When you get caught, they are not likely to admit forcing you to break protocol.

More than anything else you should learn to have your own back by being proactive. If you have to tell someone “no,” offer alternative options (solutions) that may be available for getting something done, provide other staffing choices, get a second opinion or check with your supervisor for guidance and to address your concerns.

Don’t assume your supervisor approved work that you are being asked to do by a coworker or another supervisor or manager. Your supervisor may have approved the work request. But, sometimes people will just go directly to staff seeking assistance. Always confirm with your supervisor that they’ve approved any new assignment that someone has come to you for assistance with.

If your supervisor approved the work, don’t assume they realized how swamped you may be with work. It is quite common for a supervisor to think they know the workload, but they may not realize that there have been issues that have caused assignments to be more difficult or more time consuming than expected. If you can’t take on another assignment right now, explain what’s going on to your supervisor and let them know the quality of the work may suffer or a deadline might be compromised, if you must divert your attention to another project and a non-priority assignment. That puts the responsibility back on your supervisor, if things go wrong.

If your supervisor didn’t approve the assignment, inform your supervisor about the work request, tell them about any issues with the assignment, and have your supervisor deal with the person seeking your assistance. If your supervisor puts the responsibility back on you, let the requestor know that your supervisor didn’t approve you to work on the assignment for x, y, and z reasons.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dealing with Fraudulent and Sudden Allegations of Wrongdoing

Scenario: One day you are minding your business at your desk, when your manager suddenly approaches you and tells you that he/she received a complaint from a coworker that alleges you are guilty of a performance deficiency. For instance, that you’ve caused the team to miss a major deadline, that you are continually “rude” to staff, that you are passing along work that contains errors, that you are not responding to voice or email messages in a timely fashion, that you are revealing confidential/sensitive information to staff, etc.

You’re totally blind-sided by the false allegation. So, what do you do?

I know the temptation may be to raise an eyebrow, flare your nostrils, and go into attack mode. But, the reality is that any response that remotely takes the form of aggression will quickly help to turn the conversation away from any false allegations being against you, by making your response—and not the false accusation—the prime area for discussion.

So, the first step to dealing with false allegations is to REMAIN CALM! You would not believe the sorts of deviant behavior I’ve been falsely accused of in the past. I know how hard it is not to react in a big way because you are shocked, frustrated, angry, etc. and those are all legitimate reactions to being falsely accused of things that could lead to your firing, demotion, loss of promotion opportunities, etc.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remain calm. As African Americans, there are so many stereotypes and labels that surface during the course of a normal day. But, when there’s a stressful situation and a Black person is at the heart of it, the labeling and stereotyping—even by the most intelligent people—can really get out of hand.

Instead of reacting in an emotion way, stay calm and put the onus for the discussion back on your manager, as discussed in the example. Don’t rush to explain why you didn’t cause a deadline to be missed or why you aren’t guilty of some other infringement. Instead, force your employer and the person making the accusations to do all of the explaining and talking. Let them dig themselves a hole, as opposed to digging yourself a hole.

Tip #1: As calmly as you can, simply state: “This is the first time I’m hearing this. I’m really not sure what you’re referring to.” And, just wait. I don’t care if you do have an idea of what the issue is because you’ve been working with someone who is difficult or who is unaccountable for their actions (when there is a problem) or who is a racist, etc. Play dumb for a moment and let your manager tell you about the complaint. Ask for specific details about what you believe to be a false complaint and start thinking of your counterpoints.

NOTE: Don’t forget to ask for the alleged date/time of the incident and for the context in which it took place. For instance, the problem happened around 4:30 pm on January 4th, during a mass mailing for a client to send materials to conference participants. If you’re accused of personality-based problems, ask for dates/times and examples of when you exhibited this behavior. If someone is calling you rude, they should have no problem remembering what was being discussed and what “rude” response you gave.

Tip #2: If this is truly the first time you’ve heard the complaint, which I’m assuming is true, ask why the individual didn’t personally bring the problem to your attention. Bring up the protocol of employees attempting to resolve any issues on their own before seeking input from management. Remember, if the problem was really egregious, it would have made more sense for your coworker to speak to you about it—even before speaking to your manager. Most protocol suggests that employees work on problem solving together. Ask why your coworker went to your manager without giving you the courtesy of explaining what may or may not have happened, why it may or may not have happened, and without allowing you the opportunity to fix the perceived problem. Turn the discussion to the other person’s behavior, which really is an issue, if they didn’t speak to you first.

Tip #3: Calmly state the reasons why you disagree with the complaint. Pick apart the complaint. Think of any evidence (supporting documentation) that proves your point of view. For instance, the coworker may have emailed you instructions, which you saved. These instructions may show that you carried out an assignment per the specs provided. Or, you may have sent the individual an email warning them of the consequences of certain actions, such as skipping steps in a procedure, but you were ignored. For the moment, just focus on yourself and why you are not to blame. Forward all emails/voicemail to your manager, which supports your point of view. Or, print hard copies of any documents for your manager to read.

Tip #4: If you are being accused of false personality-based problems, ask if you need to solicit character references from staff that refute the claim. When my employers tried to falsely accuse me of being “angry and defensive,” I offered to get character references from staff and clients (I already had emails from clients that commented on my work ethic, professionalism, and temperament.) My employer quickly turned down this request. They didn’t want me having hard core evidence in my possession stating that I was a “joy to work with.” Make your employer piss or get off the pot. If they want to accuse you of this behavior, based on one person’s comments, you should have the right to refute the claims.

Tip #4: Talk in general terms about how these types of issues can be avoided in the future. This is how you can professionally get in your complaints about the individual making the allegations. For instance, you might say, “We discussed this potential problem at our January 2nd meeting. Janice (the person making the complaint) specifically said we didn’t need to worry about this and that we should proceed without changing our strategy. In the future, we need to ensure that task leaders are listening to the input of other staff, so that warnings are heeded and foreseeable problems like this can be avoided.”

Tip #5: When you’ve said your peace and handed over your evidence, find out the resolution to the complaint. Ask your manager where things stand, especially if you were accused of egregious behavior. Don’t let them surprise you with criticisms on your performance evaluation that you thought were non-issues. Make sure you are not being blamed for something you didn’t do. And, make sure that nothing is being put into your personnel file.

Tip #6: If you continue to be falsely blamed and decide that the accusation is too big of an issue to ignore, consider contacting HR to investigate. But, remember, there’s always the potential for a problem to escalate, once HR is involved.

reprinted from 1/07

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