Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LEGAL BRIEF: Imagine Being Called "Aunt Jemima" at Work!

Bahama Breeze to Pay $1.26 Million to Settle Suit for Racial Harassment of Black Workers

EEOC Said Restaurant Managers Repeatedly Used Racist Slurs, Including N-word

CLEVELAND – On December 14th the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a class litigation settlement with national restaurant chain Bahama Breeze for $1,260,000 and significant remedial relief in a case alleging repeated racial harassment of 37 black workers at the company’s Beachwood, Ohio location.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Bahama Breeze managers committed numerous and persistent acts of racial harassment against black employees, including frequently addressing black staff with slurs such as “n….r,” “Aunt Jemima,” “homeboy,” “stupid n….r,” and “you people.”

Additionally, managers allegedly imitated what they perceived to be the speech and mannerisms of black employees, and denied them breaks while allowing breaks to white employees. Despite the employees’ complaints to management, the alleged race-based harassment continued.

“No worker should ever have to endure a racially hostile work environment in order to earn a paycheck,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “It is particularly disturbing when managers engage in and condone the very unlawful conduct they are required to prevent and correct. This sizeable settlement should remind employers of the possible consequences of a failure to promote and maintain a discrimination-free workplace.”

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court (EEOC v. GMRI, Inc. d/b/a Bahama Breeze, 1:08cv2214). In addition to the $1,260,000 in monetary relief obtained for the claimants, the three-year consent decree resolving the litigation contains significant injunctive relief requiring Bahama Breeze to:

--Maintain and update its written policies and procedures in all restaurants nationwide, prohibiting employment discrimination, including race discrimination, racial harassment and retaliation;

--Provide anti-discrimination and diversity training to all of its Beachwood restaurant employees, including managers;

--Comply with EEOC monitoring of the decree and periodically provide written reports regarding any discrimination complaints; and

--Display and maintain the EEOC poster in all restaurants currently within the same operational region as the Beachwood restaurant in a place visually accessible to employees.

EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence of the Philadelphia District Office, which oversees parts of Ohio, said, “The black employees in this case, some of them long-term, suffered through egregious race-based mistreatment in order to maintain their jobs. The abusive managers are now gone and we are hopeful that victims can be treated as valued members of the restaurant work force.”

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


Monday, December 21, 2009

M.I.A.: Dealing With Issues at Current Job!

Sorry for being missing in action last week. I had to deal with a burning issue that seemed to erupt out of nowhere. Unfortunately, I was reminded of something I've blogged about in the past...that it only takes one new hire to change your work environment from positive to negative.

I relearned this lesson, when a Black woman was hired to a high-level post at my job. She came into our workplace, which really does have it's own culture and philosophy. It would seem that she either didn't understand that our workplace is not supposed to be like other jobs, in many respects, or she knowingly decided not to embrace the new company culture. In either case, she decided to come into the job and:

--micromanage employees;
--subject staff to heightened observation and scrutiny;
--intimidate workers by asking them to do things and then standing around to make sure they did it; and
--have a constant presence on the sales floor.

In a very quick time, I had someone following me around the sales floor, watching me from various vantage points, commenting about what I should be doing at any given point, making vague requests about how I should be conducting my job, telling a coworker not to follow what we (those in the same position) were doing because we weren't doing our jobs correctly, and engaging in other disturbing behavior.

So, I endured this for about a week, assuming she was just having a rough adjustment to the company. But, no. I soon realized I was going to explode and probably in front of customers.

So, I spoke to the numero uno at our job site and quickly spilled the dirt on what was happening. She asked if she could speak to the woman and then call me in, but I was willing to have her brought into our meeting so I could tell her to her face.

That's exactly what happened. I looked her right in the eyes and went point-by-point. I have been able to go back to working in peace/independently since the meeting.

This is how I wish many employers would respond. It was immediately recognized that I am not a complainer and can get along with anyone. I was told the fact that I would speak to her, face-to-face, was impressive. It was clear I wasn't lying. I was thanked for naming issues, point-by-point, and giving examples of everything she was doing--not just making vague accusations.

I didn't know how it would turn out, but I had to speak up no matter what the outcome. I think we all must do what we can to improve our work conditions. I certainly wasn't going to go into the new year feeling harassed and observed. Hopefully, things don't regress because I love my work environment, overall.

Anyone dealing with issues at work, I wish you well now and in the new year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Anyone in the workplace might commit this type of harassment – a management official, co-worker, or non-employee, such as a contractor, vendor or guest. The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed. A hostile work environment might be indicated by:

• Use of racially derogatory words, phrases, epithets;

• Demonstrations of a racial or ethnic nature such as a use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group;

• Comments about an individual’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics;

• Making disparaging remarks about an individual’s gender that are not sexual in nature;

• Negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs);

• Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee’s birthplace or ancestry;

• Negative comments regarding an employee’s age when referring to employees 40 and over; or

• Derogatory or intimidating references to an employee’s mental or physical impairment.

A claim of harassment generally requires several elements, including:

• The complaining party must be a member of a statutorily protected class;

• S/he was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to his or her membership in that protected class;

• The unwelcome conduct complained of was based on his or her membership in that protected class;

• The unwelcome conduct affected a term or condition of employment and/or had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with his or her work performance and/or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

According to the EEOC, an employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages. If the supervisor's harassment results in a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability only if it can prove that: 1) it reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior; and 2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

Workplace harassment is defined by law as behavior that, while offensive, is extremely serious because it changes the conditions of your employment or creates a hostile work environment. Harassment makes it makes it difficult for you to do your job.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Defend a Racist Worker Causing Strife in the Company?

Some people who read this blog or even think about the concept of racism at work probably think that most of the people making complaints are just whiners, who don't want to take responsibility for some alleged short-comings.

In their minds, what some of us consider a workplace racist is really just someone who has been misunderstood by an employee who is a race-baiter and who is just looking to throw around the race-card.

Some people probably sympathize with employers because it must be incredibly difficult to deal with so-called false charges being levied by Black workers, who simply like to portray themselves as victims.

That's just reality. Some people will never believe that real hard-core racism (covert and overt) is still a problem in the American workplace. And, even if they do, some people don't believe that the average employer would protect someone engaging in racist behavior...illegal behavior in the workplace. So, if an employer denies racism, well, for some people, the mindset is that there must not be anything there. Why would anyone protect a racist at work?

Well, a racist may be protected by a coworker, manager, director, HR staff, or executives for a number of reasons, including:

(1) A person engaged in racially offensive/illegal behavior finds a “soul mate,” another racist who is willing to put their own job and reputation on the line to keep the racist’s job safe and who may aid in targeting a complaining employee with abuse;

(2) A belief that the company will avoid any legal or financial jeopardy if there is a cover-up about a racially-based incident and pressure is applied to a complaining employee in order to silence them or run them out of their job;

(3) Friendships/cliques jump into action to protect one of their own by executing a plan to protect the guilty party, while possibly targeting the complaining employee through slander, harassment, retaliation, etc;

(4) Departmental loyalties may work to protect the guilty party, even if they have a reputation of causing racial strife in their department or throughout the workplace;

(5) A desire to advance or show company loyalty may prompt an employee to bear false witness against a complaining employee;

(6) Some employees simply like to stir up trouble or assist in troublemaking, without any thought of reward/benefit;

(7) Executing a vendetta against a complaining/targeted employee by assisting in their race-based mistreatment. The vendetta could be rooted in jealousy, an inability to bully or dominate the complaining employee or out of a sense of competition with the complaining employee;

(8) Financial reward, promotions or other benefits may be offered by management to anyone willing to bear false witness against a complaining employee. Of course, this collusion is done in secret and can be hard to prove/uncover; and

(9) A high-powered protector makes it clear to other staff (including high-level staff) that they are not to get involved in the incident, especially by coming to the aid of the complaining employee.

The reasons for protecting people, who engage in potentially illegal activity, are too numerous to name and probably can't all be known. I mean, who can really say why anyone would protect a workplace racist? The reasons probably wouldn't make sense to most of us.

But, the problem is that people do protect racists. And, they deny that what they are doing is racist. Some may make themselves believe that the victim is simply hypersensitive and blowing things out of proportions.

The fact is, denial and protection are two of the biggest reasons that racists are able to thrive in workplaces around the country and how they continue to be gainfully employed...even promoted.

Until we take a real look at EVEYRONE'S actions in the workplace, not just the racist, we will always be struggling to defeat on-the-job racism.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

President Obama Denies Americans the Chance to Watch Charlie Brown!

Most readers know I sometimes include posts that aren't work-related. Well, today is one of those days because a news clipping I read was so ridiculous and laughable that I couldn't pass up including it here.

Anyway, I've long seen that Black people can be accused of all sorts of things with a straight face. This accusation comes from a Tennessee mayor, who accuses our President, Barack Obama, of intentionally giving a speech so that it would knock the Peanuts Christmas cartoon off the air!


Barack Obama, still being accused of being a Muslim, did not want some Americans to see Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Woodstock, and company enjoying Christmas or anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. So, what does our President do? He gives a speech that blocks the program...thus denying Christianity its moment on television!

You gotta love it.

Of course, the mayor says it was all just a joke. No, it was not. He was dead serious.

Anyway, here's the full clip from the New York Daily News website:


ARLINGTON, Tenn. — A Tennessee mayor is apologizing for writing on his Facebook page that President Barack Obama deliberately timed a speech last week to block the "Peanuts" Christmas special.

Russell Wiseman, mayor of the Memphis suburb of Arlington, also said the president is Muslim. Obama is Christian.

The Commercial Appeal reports Wiseman e-mailed the media Monday to say he regrets offending anyone with what he described as a "poor attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor amongst friends." He also says he allowed things to go too far.

The town issued a statement on its Web site saying the mayor's views do not reflect its official ideals and beliefs. Wiseman has since deleted his Facebook account.

Read more:

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Verbal Warnings

According to the EEOC, an oral warning or reprimand is appropriate only if misconduct (e.g., harassment) was isolated and minor.

If an employer relies on oral warnings or reprimands to correct harassment, it will have difficulty proving that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct such misconduct. (Source:

In other words, don’t let promises from your employer, regarding someone being written up or “spoken to” about misconduct guide your decisions as to whether or not your employer is providing ample protections for you under the law. If you have been the victim of substantial and pervasive misconduct, the punishment of the offending individual should be more significant. For instance, it may be more appropriate that the individual be demoted, transferred, etc. Only you know the severity of your situation, but you should demand whatever punishment fits the crimes committed against you.

Additionally, your employer’s response to misconduct should be immediate. If your employer does not immediately correct pervasive misconduct, they are opening themselves up to legal jeopardy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Examples of Potentially Illegal Actions in the Workplace

Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Below is an important reprint of examples of workplace situations that may indicate a race-based issue at work.

Examples include:

-- a company that doesn’t post job openings and routinely fills positions with Whites from both inside and outside the company—without African Americans and other minorities having first cracks at the job as an internal hire;

-- unequal pay for African Americans performing the same work as Whites (with similar education and work experience);

-- segregating African American employees to only work on African American projects and contracts;

-- isolating and segregating African Americans by assigning them to work only in specific locations;

-- reclassifying jobs at a lower level and assigning African Americans to perform the work;

-- routinely denying African Americans promotions;

-- laying off African American employees, while White counterparts maintain their jobs; and

-- asking potential employees to identify their race on an employment application, which might indicate that race may be a factor in hiring decisions.

Examples of harassment/a hostile work environment might include:

-- being subjected to heightened scrutiny and observation from coworkers, supervisors, etc.;

-- personal attacks based on stereotypes and racist assumptions;

-- a supervisor that regularly screams directly into the face of subordinate, in private or in front of coworkers;

-- physical threats of violence or actual physical abuse (e.g., shoving or bumping);

-- verbal abuse/put-downs, name calling or the use of racial epithets or slang;

-- job threats/intimidation;

-- intentionally malicious and false gossip;

-- stare down contests; or

-- intentional humiliation.

Examples of retaliation (for complaining of mistreatment, opposing discriminatory practices, etc.) might include:

-- stripping an employee of their staff;

-- an unjustified salary cuts;

-- the denial of standard employee benefits (e.g., use of leave, etc.);

-- a demotion;

-- a transfer to a hard-to-reach office;

-- stripping an employee of their workload/assignments; or

-- an intentionally negative and malicious performance evaluation; or

-- the denial of an anticipated promotion.

Please keep in mind that the list is not exhaustive and only represents examples of potentially illegal behavior. These are the types of incidences and situations that you should be documenting. Should you decide to make complaints, these types of situations should convey to the authority that there is a situation that demands attention and remedy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hurry to the Copier

When you're being targeted at work, there are going to be times when you may receive an email, memo or other important documents that:

--contain false allegations about you (personally and/or professionally);

--contain new/surprise allegations that differ from previous allegations being made against you;

--promise certain actions/next steps to deal with your issues;

--inform you that there will or won't be an investigation into any complaints you've made;

--contain offensive and/or hostile language and/or threats against your job;

--provide any sort of evidence--no matter how small--that supports your complaint;

--contain your written description of issues, requests for clarification, explainations of incidents at work, etc.

Anytime you get important information in writing, you've got to get hard copies made and electronic copies saved to ensure that you will not lose your evidence/proof. I know we live in the technology age, but there is nothing like a good old-fashioned piece of evidence on paper.

My former employer made all sorts of surprise and wild claims about me on my year-end performance review. As I sat in the meeting, I shot holes through everything they wrote and shot holes in their verbal defense of those written comments. Sensing that I had bested them, the HR representative raced to her office and made a number of changes to that performance evaluation. She deleted many of the wild accusations and softened the other accusations that were being made against me.

My employer had a process set up where reviews were posted on the company intranet prior to the meeting. So, everything discussed was out there for me to access, print, save, etc. 10 minutes after that review meeting, my evaluation was modified to look less retaliatory and to delete some of the worst false allegations being made against me!

The problem was, I raced to my office and made 10 copies of my original review, I emailed it to myself, and I saved it to disk. So, I wouldn't have to worry about losing my proof that my employer was going to great lengths to create a hostile environment for me and that they had no issues with lies and exaggerations of fact.

Had I waited, I would not have had any proof of the accusations being made because 10minutes later the review was changed. I would only have had the watered down review, which my employer could have argued wasn't retaliatory or offensive.

In the case of a friend (I was her primary witness at work), our employer would have people go through both of our computers and desks looking for evidence in her complaint against the company. Our chairs would be moved, the mouse of our computers would be in different locations from where we left them, our computers would be on or our computers would be on screens we didn't normally access, etc.

Don't think your employer won't rifle through your desk for any clue about information/evidence you're compiling and don't think they won't go in and read your emails and other documents. My coworker had files disappear from her computer and there was a sudden need for her department to "clean up" their electronic filing system and move files to a central location.

If you get anything relevant to your complaint, make sure to preserve your evidence. In this age of technology, it's still important to maintain a hard copy of evidence in case your electronic files become corrupt, you lose a disk, CD-Rom or flash drive, etc.

You will need to present a complete batch of evidence to any investigator or lawyer, so be sure that you maintain important records of what's happening at work and the personal and professional impact you're experiencing (hostile behavior, increased surveillance, health issues/excessive leave taken at work due to stress of harassment and abuse, etc.)

You must document everything. But, you must also maintain a copy of everything. Getting things in writing--once--isn't enough. If you move, lose a file, etc. you will not have any proof of wrongdoing. Keep multiple copies of important documents and save them in several places.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Quick Tips: Find a Hero/Champion at Work

Don’t show loyalty to people who don’t mean you any good at work. 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 asses are being kissed. So, instead of getting this person 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, 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.
Toshiba Computers
Blogarama - The Blog Directory <