Friday, October 30, 2009

Tell Us...

So, here's a question in honor of Halloween:


For me, it's some of the ignorant and memorable questions I've been asked like:
--Why isn't your hair curly like xyz's (bi-racial)?

--Why do Black people use hair grease?

--Do Black people tan?

--Have you ever been shot?

--Is that real leather? Is that real jade? etc. (questioning the authenticity of what I am wearing)

--Do you live in "the hood"?

Okay, so what about you? What stands out in your mind? Post a comment on this thread.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get Out of Your Own Way...

You know I've heard people say over and over again that sometimes they weren't able to achieve or obtain something that was important to them because they JUST COULDN'T GET OUT THEIR OWN WAY.

I keep thinking about that expression based on some things happening at work now. As I've written, recently, we've had some issues at my job with Black workers stealing. And, we've also had some terminations based on the behavior of Black workers.

For instance, we had one Black worker (male) do a rap song about another Black worker (female) saying that she was "Black and crispy...fat and ugly." He did this in front of White customers and had the guests laughing at this Black female...along with some of our coworkers.

More negative interactions transpired between the two of them and the Black male was terminated. But, here's what's interesting...

other Black female workers in the store are defending this guy and attacting the darker-skinned female worker. Some people aren't speaking to her anymore or are treating her differently.

Some of the women say..."oh, she just played the victim." They're commenting on her voice (high-pitched), her boyfriend (ugly), and all sorts of things (she provoked him) that have nothing to do with the fact that she was humiliated in public for being dark-skinned.

Now, the male worker told me he said things he shouldn't have said because he was mad at the female worker. Yet, the rest of the Black female workers won't make the same admission...that he shouldn't have called her names such as "black and crispy" for ANY REASON!

I have said point blank to a number of them, "You shouldn't have to be her complexion to be offended by what was said." I've asked, "How can any Black woman in here, regardless of color, side with him?" And, I've asked why they are defending him. It's like talking to a brick wall and it shows just how deep the troubles in the Black community still are--particularly in relation to skin tone.

I truly believe that these women don't care what he called her because they secretly agree. She is very dark. And, I guess because of their own feelings on color, they are not bothered by the names she was called. You can see it in their faces that they are cool with it, even though this woman had been their "friend" and even rides the train with some of the people who are now attacking her for "having this guy fired." But, he got himself fired.

I think we, as people, have such a hard time getting out of our own way, and it's illuminated by situations such as this. We block our blessings and make our collective lives so much harder. Crabs in a barrel. Always pulling and tugging on each other and dragging each other down.

Even in the workplace, where we depend so much on our livelihood, we still can't help but to contribute to an environment that is poisonous to us all.

The worst part of this is that a White worker has been one of the most vocal supporters of this Black woman and wrote a statement about the names she was called. While the Black and Hispanic workers, who were also present, said they didn't hear anything or that it wasn't a big deal--without giving details.

If this White worker had called a Black worker "black and crispy" how much do you want a bet that the same Black women, who don't care about a Black man saying it, would be in an uproar? "He's a racist." "We need to do something." "He should be fired." Those would be the rallying cries.

But, the attacker looked like them and they can't bring themselves to empathize and side with the victim.


We can't get out of our own way.

Post your thoughts!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Employers Will Set Traps

Unfortunately, instead of providing a remedy to correct race-based misconduct (by firing or demoting the offender) some employers will escalate attacks against the victim of the harassment. If you’re being subjected to harassing behavior and a hostile work environment at work, beware of the traps that are often laid by supervisors and/or employers.

When a supervisor or a company decides to go into protection mode, they will sometimes try to create a rock-solid case against the complaining employee. The stronger the case against the employee—even a fraudulent case—the more secure the supervisor or employer will feel about deflecting any allegations that an employee or group of employees has engaged in illegal misconduct.

It’s a bait and switch. The employee goes from complaining about mistreatment to being lured into a position of defending themselves against baseless attacks, which often have nothing to do with the instigating incident. For instance, a Black employee may complain about a White manager using racial epithets and end up in a meeting defending allegations that they (the Black employee) has been habitually tardy to work—an accusation that was never made before they complained. Having been subjected to supervisor and employer traps, I can provide some tips:

1. Keep track of all the false allegations being made against you and guard against the attack by keeping all documentation that proves the allegations are false. For instance, to justify a malicious performance evaluation rating given to me (the lowest offered at our company) my former employer accused me of being unavailable to work on specific projects and they named those projects. They said that the task leaders never knew when I could work or what I was doing.

Unfortunately, for my employer, I had emails from the tasks leaders of those projects stating that our work was put on hold by government contracting officers or that the projects were canceled. The emails even stated that no one on the team should bill any hours to those projects because they were inactive. Therefore, how could I be unavailable for work that was nonexistent? An outside investigating agency now has the claim from my employer that I was not pulling my weight on these projects. But, this agency also has my written evidence that there was no work to be done because work had been suspended or permanently stopped.

Luckily, I saved those emails because those types of emails are important to keep and because my employer was already hinting that they were going to attack my time and work effort on a number of projects. My supervisor was suddenly fond of saying that EVERYONE was “watching my hours” and every “wonders what you do.” She telegraphed the company’s blows (attempted knock-out punches) and I was keeping all documentation related to where I knew the punches would come from.

2. Keep track of false allegations and show how your supervisor or employer is engaging in behavior that would lead you toward engaging in the negative behavior. For instance, a supervisor or employer will sometimes bog a targeted employee down with a lot of extra work. This is done to make it hard for the person to meet deadlines, to encourage mistakes, and to stress out the employee. If you find yourself in this type of trap, you should document all of your assignments prior to the point where you were a target and show how your assignments significantly increased after you became a victim of abuse. You could show how the workload wasn’t spread throughout your department—just to you.

Another example of this would be a supervisor or employer falsely criticizing an employee for not asking important questions, but leaving out the part about how they wouldn’t respond to the employee’s emails or voicemails and refused to have face-to-face meeting to discuss the assignment. In this example, the employee could show documentation of attempts at getting answers to questions that were rebuffed.

The point want to show that your employer is not documenting performance problems; your employer is creating and manufacturing performance problems.

3. For a moment, pretend any false allegations are true. So, look at the personnel manual and see how your employer should be handling their false complaints and management of you on the issues. You want to play the devil’s advocate to see if you can trap your employer with their own written policies and procedures. This is a tactic that can help your case. For instance, your employer may lay a trap for you with the end goal of demoting you. But, your employer may move more quickly than is justified by their own policy. The policy might say that you should only receive an oral warning for a first violation—real or not. You can use this to back your employer into a corner by asking why they are jumping the gun and violating their own policy. And, you could question why they are alleging your behavior is so egregious it warrants ignoring their own written policy.

All of the answers to these questions will go towards building your case against your employer. It can also force your employer to back off or commit to more lies—if that is the direction they wish to take things. But, if they do, they are already in a bad position, if they’ve ignored their own policies and procedures. If so, they are showing evidence of harassing or retaliatory behavior (if you’ve already made complaints).

4. Make the employer prove the allegations/traps. If they want to lie about you, make them fully own the lies. Instead of falling into the trap, ask for historical documentation of your alleged performance deficiencies and bog your employer down with questions that they can only answer by removing their complaint about you or by lying and getting themselves into more legal hot water. For instance, if your employer lays traps about false performance deficiencies, you can ask:

a. When did you first notice this problem?
b. Why didn’t anyone bring the alleged problem to my attention before now?
c. Can I see your evidence of this problem?
(e.g., if you’re accused of making critical errors that you’ve never heard about, ask to see the work and have the errors pointed out to you.)
d. Why am I being written up, instead of offered guidance, mentoring or training?
e. Other questions related to specifics of your individual circumstances.

I know it’s easy to get frustrated by fraudulent performance allegations and traps. But, try to see through the frustration and look at these things as your employer helping you to prove a case against them. If they want to break the law and continue to harass you, create a hostile work environment for you and/or by retaliating against you for complaining, document everything and ask lots of questions. Get the answers in writing. An internal and/or external investigation or a lawyer will do the rest—depending on how you choose to pursue the issue.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tips for Dealing With Bullying

I was speaking to someone, who asked what to do when dealing with bullying at work. One of the first things I mentioned is that bullying should be referred to as being part of a hostile work environment, since bullying isn't always actionable in many states. Bullying behavior and a hostile work environment can come in many forms, depending on the people involved in commiting the abuse.

The following are some considerations and suggestions:

1) Always document acts of bullying and anything that creates a hostile environment at work. This includes behavior such as a harasser: making unwarrented written and verbal threats to your job, false allegations about your work performance, personal/personality based attacks, blaming you for problems caused by the harasser or other staff, hostile and offensive emails and voice messages, the use of racial slurs and epithets, pointing in your face, screaming at you, intentionally humiliating you in front of coworkers and/or clients, standing in your personal space to make you uncomfortable and to intimidate you, intentionally bumping into you or engaging in other physical contact as a means of abusing and intimidating you, stare down contests, malicious gossip spread around the office, your personal information being shared with coworkers, refusing to answer your emails and voicemails, omitting instructions needed to complete assignments, malicious performance evaluations, always speaking to you with the person's back turned to you/refusing to acknowlege you and look you in the eyes, placing the soles of the shoes towards you (pointed at your face) on a desk/table, you, etc.

2) Ask the person to stop the behavior. Speak to them face-to-face to initially address such a sensitive issue. Your employer could later say that you over-rely on email and may use that to twist what is happening as a negative against you and not your harasser. Give specific examples of bullying and hostile behavior and talk about how that impacts your work environment and/or work production. Talk about how you can better work together and communicate in order to put in a good faith effort to fix the problem.

3) Make a note of the face-to-face meeting, including quotes from your harasser and details of their response. Note any promises they made or any threats relayed.

4) If the problems continue, make future contact via email to get written documentation. Note specific problems with the behavior and the impact on you--professionally and personally. Keep the email professional. Strip out any emotional language, which can be used against you later to label you as overly sensitive and/or childish.

5) Keep a list of people who've witnessed bullying and hostile behavior. Write down what they've seen, the date, time, etc. Save hostile and offensive emails (electronic and hard copy) and nasty voice messages. Save your time sheets and any instructions you receive from a harasser. You might need these later to refute false allegations, etc.

6) Report the abuse to your supervisor and/or HR. Consider speaking to your harasser's supervisor.Request that they intervene in the situation. Make a note of the date/time of the meeting(s) and any promises made to fix the problems, including next steps (additional meetings, investigation, etc.)

7) Follow-up with the supervisor(s) and/or HR, if you don't hear back from them or see results from their attempt to prevent abusive behavior. Follow-up verbally and in writing to document the conversation.

8) Consider filing a formal internal complaint against the individual/request an internal investigation.

9) If the problem persists, consider filing an external complaint (e.g., EEOC) or seeking legal counsel.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Step Forward...Two Steps Back!

In the midst of some employees banding together to do something positive to make constructive changes at work, we've had a scandal break out involving employee theft. Now, this scandal doesn't appear to be connected to the vocal employees and doesn't seem to be a means to begin intimidating staff because the theft dates back to before these employees had a meeting with the executive to complain.

What's sad is that we've got one group of employees who are serious about their jobs and want to do things to improve conditions for everyone. But, on the flip side, we've got employees doing everything they can to line their own pockets and they are making things bad for the good workers.

The fact is that there will be turmoil through the weekend as the rest of the thieves are weeded out. Unfortunately, the first two that have been caught are Black women. This isn't to say that everyone connected to stealing will be Black but they will be Black or Hispanic because we comprise almost the entirety of workers at this store.

Those of us who have been doing the right thing are disgusted because, while these workers will lose their jobs, we will all be faced with the aftermath of feeling like you need to be proven innocent--even though you've been accused of nothing.

It's unfortunate that some of us engage in stereotypical behavior, but you have people of all races who get down like that.

I just wanted to bring this up because this is not uncommon at other workplaces. There's always a group trying to do the right thing and another group, who seems determined to undermine anything positive that can happen.
Which side are you on?

Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

It's something we all have to reflect on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Well, What Are We Gonna Do About It?"

I was proud of some of my young coworkers, yesterday. They have issues they are unhappy about regarding their treatment at our store and in some of the policies that have recently been enacted. They've been complaining for a few months, when one of them finally asked the question...

"Well, what are we gonna do about it? We just gonna keep talking?"

And, that's what set it off. They began speaking to a manager who seemed like she would be receptive and she passed the ball to a member of corporate who was coming for a visit.

Yesterday, they sat down for a roundtable discussion with the corporate executive and I was invited to sit in and help them provide examples, etc.

What made me feel good about this was that:

1) They decided to do something about it;

2) They were uncomfortable speaking up alone, so they decided there were strength in numbers and created a small team to represent the larger pool of workers who felt the same way;

3) They were succinct and brought up issues that many people might be afraid to discuss;

4) They offered solutions and disagreed with ideas that they didn't think would adequately address their needs and concerns;

5) They talked about what worked. It wasn't just about complaints.

What was even more impressive was that the employees were 19 years old to 23 years old in age. Only one was a college graduate. For a couple, this was their first job. But, they stood together--in front of a corporate big wig--and spoke clearly about what was making them feel demoralized, disrespected, and unhappy about their work environment.

I thought I'd share that because we all go through things at different jobs and we all end up in groups that complain to each other about what's wrong at the job. But, sometimes, someone needs to simply ask the question...

"Well, what are we gonna do about it?"

Just something to think about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shower Me With Your Love...

Don’t show loyalty to people who don’t mean you any good. Don’t try to buy people’s loyalty because it won’t hold. Showering an undeserving or racist coworker or manager with attention and praise won’t get you any respect…and it won’t stop any mistreatment or illegal abuse.

In fact, it will get do the opposite.

No one respects a butt-kisser, even those whose butts are being kissed.

So, instead of getting your abuser to stop their behavior, you are encouraging them to continue to mistreat you because you are agreeing to be a victim. Instead of aligning yourself with those that don’t deserve your energy or attention and who don't deserve to be showered with your love, you should focus on forming positive alliances and friendships.

Those will be the individuals worthy of your respect and loyalty. These are also the people who are more likely to champion your causes. And, they are also more likely to provide some sort of assistance in dealing with an abusive coworker or supervisor.

You can't get your harasser to stop abusing you simply by being nice, buying their lunch, showering them with praise and compliments, etc. They will dislike you even more--even if they appear to accept your behavior. They will enjoy watching your displays of weakness and your lack of self-respect.

I had a White coworker try to buy off a White manager (who was being condescending, complaining about the quality of her work, bad mouthing her to coworkers, etc.) by house-sitting for her, when the manager traveled for work, feeding her cat, picking up her dry cleaning, and doing other domestic work.

At one point, the two women were friendly and even went to lunch together. But, something changed. The subordinate decided that she could win over the manager with kindness and even told me that this was her strategy. "I'm going to make her like me." That's what she said.

Long story short, the manager fired the subordinate within 6 months of her behaving like the manager's maid. Now, this was two White women. So, this had nothing to do with race. But, the point is still the same. The subordinate could not buy or earn the affections of a manager who disliked her and who was determined to be abusive.

All the energy used to kiss someone's butt, who may be violating federal statutes against harassment and/or discrimination, could be put to better use.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me...

If you file a complaint of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc. against your employer, your employer may respond by producing what appears to be evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for whatever employment action was taken against you. However, legally, a violation would still be found if the explanation provided by your employer is a pretext designed to hide the true retaliatory motive.

Typically, pretext is proved through evidence that an employer treated a complainant differently from similarly situated employees or that the employer's explanation for an adverse action is not believable. An adverse action is any action taken to try to keep someone from opposing a discriminatory practice, or from participating in an employment discrimination proceeding.

If you have complained/opposed discrimination, etc. in the workplace, you want to begin tracking and documenting your employer’s pretext(s) by exposing how the so-called legitimate evidence is nothing more than a cover story to justify the real reason they are targeting you—discrimination, etc.

One way you can show pretext is to show that your employer subjected your work performance to heightened scrutiny/increased observation after you engaged in protected activity (e.g., by opposing discriminatory practices, participating in a discrimination proceeding, etc.)

I can give you examples of my experience with heightened scrutiny and increased surveillance. After my former employer was found guilty of retaliating against a Black manager, they came after me for providing truthful testimony about what I heard and witnessed being said and done to the Black manager. I was denied a promotion, denied a justified transfer to take on a new career path for which I was working and received training, and I was subjected to heightened scrutiny and increased surveillance. A couple of weeks after my employers were found guilty of retaliation, I suddenly started hearing about everything that was supposedly being “noticed” or I was told about how things “appeared”. For instance:

-- I was told that people were noticing my hours in and out of the office and that everyone was suddenly questioning my hours. But, my employer wouldn’t accuse me of time sheet fraud, missing deadlines, etc., which would result from an employee not being at work or working shortened days;

--I was suddenly told that everyone questioned if I was really doing work, when I took assignments home. It was stated, “We see you taking things home, but even managers wonder if you really do anything, when you get there.”

--I was suddenly told that all of my emails read “defensively,” with no examples provided and no justification for why this wasn’t a complaint in the previous 7 years I was working at the company;

--I was told that I appeared to be looking for another job; and

--I was told that I appeared to be unhappy and didn’t appear to like working in my department, etc.

Everything I did was scrutinized, pulled apart, and most of it was documented as alleged performance deficiencies. Blanket statements were used to criticize me with no supporting documentation, etc.

So, one of my positions--in my defense to an outside investigating organization--was that I had participated in protected activity (assisting a discrimination investigation) and as a result I was subjected to heightened scrutiny, along with threats to my job security, intimidation, etc.

So, always think about exposing pretexts, the supposedly legitimate reasons why your employer targeted you with some employment action (termination, denial of promotion, suspension, demotion, etc.). If you are the victim of false employment actions and your employer needs to cover it up, they will begin watching you and documenting whatever they think they can use against you.

Think about the levels of heightened scrutiny and increased surveillance that you are being subjected to compared to other similarly situated employees (employees in the same job, level, classification, etc.).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LEGAL BRIEF: EEOC Sues for Race/Sex Discrimination & Retaliation for Filing a Complaint

Yesterday, I had a post that addressed anti-retaliation provisions of EEO statutes.

Today, I wanted to follow that up with this blurb on a current EEOC case that has been filed in which an employee complained of race and sex discrimination. The employee was then fired because he "should not have gone to the human resource department." This type of retaliation, termination based on making a complaint and opposition to discrimination, is a violation of existing statutes.

For details on the EEOC complaint, see below:



Montgomery Mall Contractor Fired Employee for Complaining About Race and Sex Discrimination, Federal Agency Charges

BALTIMORE – A nationwide building services company providing services to Westfield’s Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md., violated federal law when it fired an employee because he complained about race and sex discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced on October 9th.

In its suit, the EEOC said Crown Energy Services, doing business as Able Engineering Services, terminated Carlos Moulden shortly after he complained about sex and race discrimination to his supervisor and the human resource department at the Montgomery Mall. The EEOC said that Moulden’s supervisor, Richard Mouri, angrily told him that he “should not have gone to the human resource department” with the complaints and that he [Mouri] “was the human resource department.”

Retaliation for protesting employment discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-02572PJM) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The complaint seeks monetary and injunctive relief, including back wages, compensatory and punitive damages and changes in employment policies to provide equal employment opportunities and an end to retaliatory employment practices.

Rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to address Mr. Moulden’s internal complaints about discrimination, Able Services made a bad situation worse by illegally punishing him for complaining,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence. “We must be vigilant in enforcing the law and ensure that employees who engage in legally protected opposition are not fired in retaliation.”

According to its web site (, Able Engineering is the largest privately held building services company in the United States.

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


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Prohibitions Against Retaliation

EEO statutes prohibit a covered entity (business, etc.) from retaliating against an individual (employee) who has engaged in protected activity, which includes both participation in the EEO process (filing an EEO complaint, providing testimony in an investigation, etc.) and opposition to discrimination (complaining of discrimination at work--even if you don't use the word "discrimination", protesting against discrimination, etc.).

The prohibition against retaliation is very broad and covers more than merely discriminatory treatment with respect to terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

The anti-retaliation provisions prohibit ANY adverse treatment that is based on a retaliatory motive and is reasonably likely to deter the charging party or others from engaging in protected activity. For example, it would be retaliatory to instigate criminal theft and forgery charges against a former employee because she filed an EEOC charge.

Examples of adverse actions include:

--employment actions such as termination, refusal to hire, and denial of promotion,

--other actions affecting employment such as threats, unjustified negative evaluations, unjustified negative references, or increased surveillance, and

--any other action such as an assault or unfounded civil or criminal charges that are likely to deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights.

Adverse actions do not include petty slights and annoyances, such as stray negative comments in an otherwise positive or neutral evaluation, "snubbing" a colleague, or negative comments that are justified by an employee's poor work performance or history.

For more information on anti-retaliation provisions, a good link to check out is:


Friday, October 09, 2009

LEGAL BRIEF: Black Worker Subjected to Noose and Racist Symbols at Work Site

The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, provides information on anti-discrimination legal proceedings/court rulings, and identifies some of the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. The Legal Brief also provides insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel, as well as to employees who feel they are becoming embroiled in race-related issues at work.

In this legal brief a Black worker was subjected to a noose (made from insulation) and other racist symbols, such as the swastika.

Symbols such as these, by themselves, represent examples of single incidencs which will immediately rise to the egregious category of offenses because of the history of these symbols. It is known and accepted by courts that the noose is part of the history of lynching/murder and was also used as a visual sign of intimidation (along with burning crosses).

It doesn't take repeated incidences of noose hangings and swastikas to make the incident more serious. Again, one instance is recognized as egregious. For more details on the complaint, see below:



Noose and Other Racist Symbols at Work Site; Employee Fired When He Complained, Federal Agency Charges

PHOENIX -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on October 1st that it has filed an employment discrimination suit against Spartan Plumbing, Inc., a company that provides plumbing services in Tucson, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev. In its lawsuit, EEOC v. Spartan Plumbing Inc, (Civil Action No 09-547 TUC-RCC), filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, the EEOC charges that the employee in this case was subjected to harassment based on his race, Black.

The suit alleges that supervisors and coworkers subjected the black employee to racial slurs and less desirable work assignments on a daily basis throughout his tenure at Spartan. In June 2007, the employee reported to work and encountered a swastika, “KKK,” and other symbols scrawled in paint on the floor of the work site, the EEOC said. He also found a noose made of insulation at the same location. After he reported the incident to management, he was fired as retaliation, the EEOC said.

Race discrimination in the workplace, including racial harassment, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC will seek monetary damages, including compensatory and punitive damages for the employee. In addition, the EEOC is seeking relief that calls for Spartan Plumbing to institute and implement policies designed to eradicate and prevent future episodes of race discrimination.

“The incidents alleged in this complaint remind us that racism remains a factor in the work­place,” said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. “Such bold racist actions must be addressed and eradicated by employers in the work environment. The EEOC will continue to vigorously defend the federally protected rights of victims who are subjected to discrimination and who exercise their rights to complain about discrimination to employers.”

EEOC Phoenix Acting District Director Rayford O. Irvin added, “Our investigation found that this racist misconduct was tolerated in the workplace and the company compounded the problem by firing the victim. This only makes a bad situation worse.”

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


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Workplace Segregation

According to the EEOC, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is violated where employees who belong to a protected group are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contact. In addition, employers may not assign employees according to race or color.

For example, Title VII prohibits assigning primarily African-Americans to predominantly African-American establishments or geographic areas. It is also illegal to exclude members of one group from particular positions or to group or categorize employees or jobs so that certain jobs are generally held by members of a certain protected group. Coding applications/resumes to designate an applicant's race, by either an employer or employment agency, constitutes evidence of discrimination where people of a certain race or color are excluded from employment or from certain positions.

I’ve previously written about one job I had, where Black workers were routinely excluded from direct client contact. White managers, mid-level staff, and junior staff would normally attend the meetings with our government clients. After all of the strategy sessions were done, Black employees would be invited to participate—on conference calls. We were kept out of sight like some dirty secret.

It got so bad, that one government contracting officer asked the President and CEO of our company where the Black employees were. Word got around the office that this high-ranking official went off in a face-to-face meeting with our CEO. She said that she and other contracting officers noticed they were only meeting White employees. She said that the government was using taxpayer funds and she expected diversity. She also said that she wanted to make sure that Black and minority workers were being assigned to work on the tasks—African American and “mainstream” assignments. The contracting officer declared an expectation that minorities not just perform administrative work, but ACTUAL PROJECT WORK. She was not looking for tokens, but Black workers represented across spectrum of assigned positions.

So, my employer held one of her “dog and pony shows.” Except, this time, she was showing off the Black and minority workers. The CEO took these government clients around our office building—only stopping at the offices of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian employees. This was the first time many of us were introduced to our clients. We'd never seen any of these people and our contracts had been going on for years!

Another example of segregation is that some Black employees are segregated to only work on Black projects. I had a coworker, a researcher, who was only assigned to conduct research, when the interviewees were Black. This was the tactic used by a director and a mid-level manager in another department. They refused to assign her to interview Whites, Hispanics, etc.

Another issue, at some companies, is that Black workers end up in the lowest level administrative staff positions and with the lowest salaries. This can represent a segregation and classification issue because it is not inherently plausible that only Blacks are capable of working in the lowest level jobs at a company.

Finally, you can have Black and other minority workers segregated and isolated to work at specific locations that are out of sight or are hard-to-reach. For instance, an employer may have Blacks and/or Hispanics as the only workers in a warehouse--overseen by a White management--while White workers hold all or nearly all of the office jobs associated with the same company.

What can you do?

Take a look at the positions and staffing at your job. Who is working on what? What are the titles, job levels, and classifications of those workers? Do workers seem to be pigeon-holed and/or assigned based on race? Are workers segregated in the office or isolated at certain job locations based on race?

If you suspect a segregation and classification issue, begin to compile documentation that can support your position. If your company distributes employees lists and other demographic charts, mark them up to reflect the issues you see.

Talk to other employees to see if they also notice the issue and view it as a problem. If a group of employees want to address the issue, do so as a group. Speak to someone in HR about the issue. It’s best to go in mass regarding issues like this. But, if you have to fly solo, make sure you have all the facts and can prove your point.

Build a circumstantial of race-based segregation and classifical case that is sound and easy to understand. Gather organizational charts and anything else that will demonstrate a need for investigation and change.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Don't Forget to Follow-up

If you have to complain or have complained about racially based discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation--even if you haven't specifically used those words--it's important that you keep a record of all correspondence to follow-up on your complaint.

If you've met with a supervisor, director, VP, etc., you should document that face-to-face meeting, in writing, to get a record of what was said and any next steps that were promised.

But, more importantly, if you haven't had a satisfactory response to your complaint, you should send a follow-up message asking about the status of your complaint, issue, question, etc.

Never set yourself up to look like the issue that you brought up really wasn't a big deal and don't allow someone to test your commitment to get results, by seeing if they can just wait you out. Many supervisors and employers like to use stall tactics. It's one of the easiest ways to marginalize and ignore an employee. "We're looking into it" or "Business is so hectic right now, we haven't had time to check into things," are just two of the responses you can get. While these may be legit issues, they are also great ways to stall a complaining employee.

Many employees may feel uncomfortable if they continue to bring up questions about a sensitive issue. Employees may feel they are more likely to face some sort of retaliation if they "pester" someone in HR or a supervisor about a hot-button issue, such as anything involving race. So, stalling does work in many cases.

But, you have a right to follow-up about your issues. Should you need to file a formal internal or external complaint, you will want your follow-up attempts included as part of the package you submit to launch an investigation. Ignored follow-up correspondence (emails, memos, letters, etc.) can show that a serious issue was being marginalized and ignored and can show an employer may be tolerant of certain behavior, which may violate federal statutes.

If you've been promised certain next steps, you have a right to know if those steps have been completed. If you've been promised an employee will be suspended, sent to sensitivity training, etc., you have a right to know that these actions have taken place. If you are dealing with an internal or external investigator, you have a right to know the status of your complaint/status of the investigation.

Don't think of yourself as pestering someone. Investigations can take time, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be abreast of what's happening. Things can slip through the cracks. You want to make sure your complaint isn't one of those things.

Anytime you follow-up with someone about anything related to your complaint, make sure to maintain a record for your files. The information could be very important in the long-term. Ask questions and document everything!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Did They Do It Before?

If you are being subjected to racially-based mistreatment, you should do your best to find out if your harasser or tormentor has had similar encounters with other minority employees. If a pattern of negative behavior exists, you should demonstrate that this PATTERN OF PRIOR BAD ACTS has not been adequately addressed by your employer.

For instance, if your employer has received numerous complaints from a variety of minority employers about racially-based harassment by a particular supervisor, you should definitely make note of this pattern on your log.

Find out as much specific information as you can and highlight all of the similarities with your case. Be sure to note what action, if any, was taken by your employer based on a problem pattern of behavior.

The fact that your employer may have chosen to ignore racially-based complaints could bolster your case and demonstrate that your employer has a tolerance for racial bullying, discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

List a description of the incident(s), names and races of employees and witnesses, any actions taken by a supervisor, manager or the company, as a whole, and the date of the incident(s).
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