Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Got to be about More Than "Bullying"

When people are under attack at work it’s common to find that they refer to all or most of their mistreatment as “bullying” behavior.

There’s only one problem with that… only about 13 states have anti-bullying legislation pending. However, not a single bill has been signed into law. Bullying isn’t officially legislated, which makes it harder to seek legal remedy.

African Americans, like women and other groups, are considered a protected class. There are laws we can look to, when we encounter racists at work, who may use bullying as a tactic to cause harm to a coworker or subordinate.

Much of the typical behavior of bullies would fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against protected groups of people. Part of the anti-discrimination codes for the workplace is a prohibition against harassment and retaliation. Connected to harassment is language that states that it is illegal to subject an employee to a hostile and offensive work environment, which is the goal of a bully. A bully wants to make to make their victim feel miserable, isolated, and threatened or intimidated. A bully also wants to make it difficult for a coworker or subordinate to fulfill the requirements of their job.

If bullying is a tactic being used against you by a racist on the job, you should stay away from the term “bully” and focus more on the actual consequences of the mistreatment. As stated above, you should focus on discussing the specifics of the hostile work environment and provide examples of your mistreatment and how it is preventing you from doing your job.

So, you would want to mention, for example, that you are being subjected to verbal and physical threats, you are being yelled at in front of coworkers, you are called by racial epithets, you are being subjected to stare down contests, you are having your space encroached upon as a method of physically intimidating you, your emails and voice mails are not returned and it is preventing you from doing your job, and that your are completely ignored in one-on-one meetings and group meetings. Again, these are examples.

Most importantly, you must show that this mistreatment is race-related in order to be covered by Federal statutes prohibiting the discrimination and harassment of a member of a protected class. You can do this by showing that the excuses provided by the harasser (bully) are nothing more than a pretext to hide their real motive—racism. You can show that you are treated differently than similarly situated employees, such as coworkers in the same job of another race.

You can point out that you were subjected to heightened scrutiny (observation), unlike similarly situated employees or employees of any class within your unit or the company, as a whole. You can also show how your performance reviews contained surprise negative feedback that was contradictory to the positive feedback you received throughout the year or you can describe how you were falsely labeled as having performance deficiencies. You must build a case that shows that there is no reasonable justification for why you were targeted except race.

By connecting the so-called bullying behavior to active racism, you can demonstrate that a coworker or supervisor or other member of authority violated your rights under Federal law. Remember, focus on specifics. Don’t rely on the term bullying as a catch-all phrase. Bullying will make it seem like there was a simple personality problem between two employees. So, if you have a race-based issue at work…that is how you should refer to it. Don’t water down your case by referring to bullying instead of active racism, discrimination, and harassment.


Blogger Mitch said...

Good stuff. By the way, I gave your blog a mention on one of my blogs:

11:43 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

S. Mary Wills,

I regularly browse through your blog. From what I have read, it seems legally accurate. If you are open to my suggestions, I would like to see strategies of employers and their attorneys during a deposition, courtroom, etc. This is because, it is one thing getting to a jury trial and another thing winning the case. As you already know, plaintiffs in discrimination cases lose much more often than plaintiffs in nondiscrimination cases. The statistics get worse in an appeal.

Also, I understand that since you are African American, you are writing from an African American perspective. Just please keep in mind that racists will always try to divide a group of minorities in order to more easily conquer them. It is the old separate the herd strategy.

For instance, if a racist wants to attack a group of Asians, the racist might first “befriend” the Chinese and Japanese members of that Asian group to plant seeds against Filipinos of that same group. The racist might ask the Chinese and Japanese members a seemingly innocent question such as “Are Filipinos truly Asians, after all, they have Spanish sounding names?”

Of course, once Filipinos are ostracized from the group, the racist might further divide the Japanese and Chinese members by approaching the Japanese members and playing up to their cultural "superiority" much in the same way the ultimate racist (Hitler) did during the 30's and 40's. In the end, the mentioned Asian group is fragmented and defeated. You get the picture.

With this said, perhaps you should start mentioning other minorities more often in you blog in order to establish minority solidarity. After all, we can pretty much assume that other non-whites during the 60’s were also considered “Colored.”

“United we stand, Divided we fall.” Patrick Henry 1799

Finally, we also hear that minorities are often racist against each other such as when an Arab or even a Black taxi driver refuses to pick up potential Black passengers in NYC. Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins knows this from first hand experience. This is wrong and is more the reason why all minorities and whites should fight together against discrimination.

Thank you again for being so prolific in your blog. It is something useful to anyone working while non-white heterosexual Christian male under 40.


10:34 AM  

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