Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quickly Collect Your Evidence!

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.

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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chickens Come Home to Roost...

Some interesting things going on at work.

We've got some very immature people running my store. According to rumors, management (male and female) has been sleeping with workers and engaging in ultra-friendly relationships outside the job. Most of the workers are on the facebook pages of managers and they share stories about drinking, partying, etc.

It makes sense that these workers are the "favorites" at our job. They get all their requests granted for special treatment, time off (without using their paid time off), etc.

Well, the store director had a run-in with one of the people who has always gotten away with murder. She suspended this young woman without pay for doing something she's always allowed her to do. That suspension was to retaliate against the worker, who decided she didn't like the boss anymore and started staying away from her. The boss asked her whey she didn't speak and the worker said she didn't care for her.

She was honest! And, she was suspended shortly after that. But...

As they say...


This worker called our ombudsman and our corporate office. On her first day back from suspension, 4 corporate personnel had flown in to speak to her. That must have been some phone call!!

Anyway, they met with the worker for 4 hours!! She told every dirty deed she knows that all levels of managers have committed. She told about sexual relationships, about using administrative procedures to "run people out" that they didn't like, spreading personal business to staff that was supposed to be confidential, managers goofing off and sleeping downstairs (she had pictures!), managers gossiping about working after hours on train rides with staff, managers using company funds to pay for lunch for their "favorites," and much more!

It just goes to show that not every issue at work is race-related. But, there's a ton of senstive issues that can crop out.

A friend and I always wondered how companies and managers can go after people, when they have so much commonly known dirt on their hands.

We finally decided the answer was...


They get away with murder and think there isn't an end to it. They don't think there is ever going to be a point where a worker will stand up to them. They think they can retaliate and push buttons and never suffer consequences.

Who knows how this drama at my job will turn out...

But, it seems a fair share of embarassment is going to go around. I will not be surprised if some new faces appear by the summer. New faces running the store!!

Chickens come home to roost!

I hope all of it was worth it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's About Credibility

One of the tactics you can use to defeat the lies and false accusations of an employer is to attack their credibility—the same as your employer will attack yours!

There are four basic components for looking into who is or isn’t credible: inherent plausibility, corroboration, motive to falsify, and past history. These are the same components that your employer will try to use to show that you—and not they—lack the credibility to be taken seriously.

Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself regarding the four basic components. These components are also helpful in shaping your overall arguments and positions regarding your complaint and any actions taken by your employer.

Inherent plausibility

--Are your employer’s arguments and positions believable at face value? Why or why not?

--Do their statements and evidence (real or fabricated) make sense? Why or why not?

--Are the actions of your employer justified/appropriate based on allegations or has your employer overreached or overreacted? Explain your position in detail.

--Do the actions of your employer adhere with written policies and procedures or are there violations? For instance, does written policy state/suggest that you should have first been placed on oral warning, but your employer jumped 3 phases and suspended you? Or, was your complaint automatically supposed to be internally investigated (based on your complaint), but your employer did not look into the facts/blatantly ignored your complaint? Provide specifics, provide copies of written policies and procedures, and explain how policies and procedures were violated.

When it comes to inherent plausibility, your goal is to shoot holes in every one of your employer’s arguments and positions. You should be thinking of cross examinations at a trial, when the defense is trying to shut down and destroy prosecution witnesses. Attack! Attack! Attack!

Motive to Falsify

--Does your employer have a reason to lie?

If so, show how your employer's cover story is simply designed as a pretext to hide their real motive--discrimination, harassment, etc. Use your employer's arguments against them to expose contradictions, violations of policy, etc. Use circumstantial or direct evidence to show the false case that was built by your employer.

--Do your employer's witnesses have a reason to lie?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘If you think they’re out to get you, they probably are?”

Well, I’m aware of a case of race-based retaliation, where an employer tried to cover up activities against a Black manager by essentially bribing the Black staff in her department to make statements against her or to pretend they did not know what was going on within the department.

Suddenly, there was a market review conducted of salaries within the department and all of these underpaid Black employees received increases. Additionally, Black employees that were willing to sign false statements against the manager were also given a separate salary increase. There was suddenly a performance award given out with a $1,000 bonus. Coincidentally, a Black person in the manager’s department won the award. The award was touted as being a new annual award, but the award was NEVER given out again!

In my case, my two main witnesses received harassing treatment and were calling me to tell me about sudden performance issues they were being alleged to have. They both felt that they were being told to shut up about what they witnessed and heard being said to me.

These are the things you should try to expose because they show people’s motive to lie on you. Some people do not need money to lie. They will lie simply to win favor with your employer and they will HOPE that lying provides them a benefit somewhere along the line. These types of people may feel lying just amounts to office politics and smartly playing the corporate game, so they will take down anyone that may present them with a problem and they will do whatever it takes to show they are a team player.

Some people have a motivation to lie in order to protect someone in the workplace that is highly valued, that they have a close relationship with, etc. You can help prove motivation by showing the links between staff, managers, important business deals, etc.


--Is there witness testimony?

--Is there physical evidence?

You need to create and maintain a list of witnesses that can back up your story of workplace events. If employees resign, that have witnessed your mistreatment, get their contact information or—at the very least—snoop around and find out what company they’ve gone to work for. You can always look them up later.

If possible, get your witnesses to write statements about what they’ve seen. Ask them to get the statements notarized. Someone close to you may be willing to do this! If you think someone would be hesitant to provide you a statement or even to write down what happened in an email, trap them. Yes, I hate to go there, but sometimes you have to trick people into telling the truth. Just see if you can get the person to engage in an email conversation with you about the incident. You can be like, “Can you believe she called me a ------ ?” And, keep the conversation going as long as possible to show that you were called an offensive name, as per this example, and that someone else heard the slur.

As far as physical evidence, document everything, save all hard copies of important and relevant paperwork (e.g., administrative forms, timesheets, etc.), forward important email, memos, etc. to your personal internet account, and if there has been physical violence—take pictures. If there has been physical violence, you should also call the police and make a report. You can also secretly tape record conversations and meetings. Even if it’s not admissible in court, you can use it to convince an investigator, lawyer, etc. to understand that your case is with merit and should be investigated.

Past Record

--Does your employer have a history of similar behavior and allegations?

You saw how they did Michael Jackson at his trial. Right or wrong, when there is an accusation, there is also an attempt to show a pattern of bad behavior. If you are under attack by your employer, you already know what I am talking about. In my case, one false allegation led to another and another. Before you knew it, my employer was trolling through my previous performance evaluations from years before and they were taking a sentence or two from the section about improving performance. They added this information to my current review and then wrote, in my latest review, that I was habitually and continually having these problems. This was a lie, but they were smart. They needed to make me a problem employee. They could only do that by pretending that I was consistently engaged in negative behavior. They twisted feedback on minor improvements that any employee could make and made them into a federal case that allegedly warranted me being targeted for HR attention.

This is what employers do, when they’ve committed to a course of action against an employee (e.g., setting a person up for termination, demotion, etc.).

You have to take the same tactic and show how your employer has a past history of engaging in mistreatment, misconduct, not investigating allegations of race-based abuses, or how they’ve previously engaged in discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc. Ask questions and snoop around. One of your coworkers may have information you can use. Or, you may already know about how someone was dogged out by your employer, but you were uninvolved in the incident. Write down everything you know about that case and any others that are similar or show the same corporate dysfunctions you believe to be a problem in your case. Show the patterns!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Can You Use as Evidence?

I like to repeat this post every so often because it has an important list of different types of information that might be used as evidence. The list is not exhaustive. Depending on your job and the nature of your business, you may have access to different information that can be used to support your complaint of workplace abuses.


Depending on your circumstances, the type of evidence you might gather to prove a case of race-based discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc. may vary. Things to keep in mind, when considering evidence, are:

--What information do you need to compile that will give a third-party, who is unfamiliar with your circumstances/company, the necessary background information that will help them easily and clearly get up to speed with your situation? (e.g., the organizational structure of your company or department)

--Do I need to compile any information that is specific to my industry/field? Are there key procedures or ethics rules that are involved in my work? (Relevant if you’ve been falsely accused of violating protocols, etc.) Is there some part of my work or field that would be confusing to a third-party?

--What direct evidence do you have? Direct evidence is hard to come by, but isn’t impossible to obtain at some companies. For instance, some employers will have a manager or supervisor that is bold and stupid enough to bring your race into a discussion about why you can’t get a promotion.

Most people, today, are too savvy to make this mistake, but you still hear complaints, from time to time, about someone being called a nig*er or monkey or some other derogatory name that helps show the pattern of racial intolerance and outright hostility that some Whites may have towards Blacks at a company.

What circumstantial evidence do you have? Circumstantial evidence is the most common type of evidence in complaints and cases against companies. Circumstantial evidence is likely what you will have. You need to compile as much of this relevant evidence as you can to support your case.

So, if you want to prove that Blacks are passed over for management jobs, some circumstantial evidence to prove this might be: a list of all managers (with a racial breakdown); two-years of promotion announcements, for management positions (with a racial breakdown); a list of Black workers that were passed over for management promotions; signed affidavits from these working stating the rationale given to deny them a promotion or an affidavit with the person describing other ways that they have personally been passed over or denied opportunities to manage; promotion criteria; and a copy of a management job description and a comparison to your skills and experience.

These are just some examples. Below is a guideline of items to consider when you are developing your evidence of harassment, bullying, intimidation, and discriminatory or retaliatory actions by a company:

--Emails (making false accusations against you, documenting you for false negative behaviors, blaming you for problems caused by other staff, threats/intimidation, etc.)
--Memos and Other Documentation (reports, charts, etc. or memos citing false performance deficiencies, putting you on probation or giving you written warnings, etc.)
--Handwritten notes
--Voice Mail Messages (transcribe, save, and tape record)
--Documentation of Face-to-Face Meetings (You should write down what was said at any face-to-face meetings. Following the meeting, send an email to the person or people you met with in order to get the content of the meeting in writing. For instance, “We just met to discuss [insert the purpose of meeting] and you said that I was deficient in…”)
--Tape Recordings of Meetings or Conversations
--Witness Support/Evidence (notarized statements, corroborating testimony, etc.)
--Copies Of Performance Reviews
--Your Personal Logs of Events
--Human Resource Records (your personnel file)
--Corporate Personnel Manual On Policies And Practices
--Corporate Performance Review Guidelines
--Departmental Information (specific procedures, contracts, etc.)
--Organizational Charts and Records (corporate and/or department level)
--Regulations Regarding Workplace Conduct (your company’s anti-harassment policies, anti-discrimination policies, promotion criteria, etc.)
--Federal Law

Nothing is too small or insignificant to save. One sentence of a long email or memo might be crucial to proving a claim that you are making. It’s better to save everything and not need it, than to throw items away and want to smack yourself in the face for making a huge mistake!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LEGAL BRIEF: EEOC Sues Pinnacle Amusements for Racial Harassment of Black Workers

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.


Party Rental Company Subjected Black Employees to Racial Slurs, Federal Agency Charges

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed last month that Pinnacle Amusements, Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., violated federal law by subjecting black employees to a racially hostile work environment. Pinnacle Amusements is a family-owned business that specializes in corporate, school, church and private party amusement rental needs, such as slides, moon bouncers and other inflatable party products in the Charlotte-Metro area.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, for six years, Benjamin Henderson, a driver and warehouse employee, and other African American employees were repeatedly subjected to unwelcome derogatory racial comments and slurs. These epithets included the “N-word,” as well as racial jokes by one of Pinnacle’s owners, who was also the company's owner / vice president. According to the EEOC’s complaint, Henderson complained about the racial harassment, but the owner / vice president ignored his complaints, telling Henderson that he was “just joking,” or that Henderson was a “tough guy” and could handle the racial slurs and comments. Henderson also complained to Pinnacle Amusement's co-owner, who is the company's president. Despite Henderson’s complaints, the racial harassment continued, the EEOC said.

Racial harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of his race. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Pinnacle Amusements, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Civil Action No. 3:10-cv-00065) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The agency seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Henderson and other African American employees, as well as injunctive relief.

“The evidence presented to the EEOC indicates that one of Pinnacle Amusement’s owners created a racially hostile work environment which Mr. Henderson and other black employees endured in order to keep their jobs,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. “It is this agency’s mission to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and we will vigorously prosecute cases like this.”

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney in the Charlotte District Office, said, “Racial harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated. This case was especially distressing because this owner subjected a black employee to racial slurs, considering it a joke. Discrimination is not a joke – it’s a violation of federal law.”

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

IN THE NEWS: Obama Signs Healthcare Legislation into Law!!

It's taken more than 100 years, but we finally have substantial reform to our horrible healthcare system. While more still needs to be done, President Obama has gone a long way in helping Americans get the coverage we all need. No adult or child should be without health insurance. This is America. We can't brag about our liberty and our greatness, while millions of Americans can't go to the doctor and millions of Americans can't be insured (or only receive limited healthcare coverage) due to pre-existing conditions.

The new healthcare law will ensure that 95% of all Americans will have health insurance! This is landmark and fulfills one of the promises Obama made to all Americans, when he began his campaign for the presidency.

This news story is partially a work-related story because the legislation will impact the bargaining power that businesses, especially small businesses, will have in finding more affordable healthcare coverage for workers. This might impact you.

Even if you are unemployed, the legislation will help you get coverage. Many elements of the law will roll out this year.

Of course, the GOP is still lying about what is in the healthcare package because they see it as a way to pick up seats in the mid-term Congressional elections. This is why we must all turn out to ensure that Democrats keep enough control in Congress for Obama to continue to make as many changes as possible.

This is a great day for all of us--especially the uninsured!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Employers Should Warn Against Retaliation!

If you file an internal complaint at your company alleging that you are the victim of harassment or retaliation, your employer is supposed to inform staff that it will not accept you being subjected to any mistreatment, while your complaint is being investigated.

In addition, any employment decisions that are made, after you file a complaint, should be reviewed by your employer in order to ensure that the decisions are not a disguise for continued punishment. For instance, if you complain about harassment from your supervisor and your supervisor transfers you to an office that is isolated (a long and out-of-the-way commute, etc.), your employer should analyze the transfer and should reverse the supervisor’s decision, if it is determined that you were transferred based on your supervisor’s need for revenge.

The EEOC specifically says:

An employer should make clear that it will not tolerate adverse treatment of employees because they report harassment or provide information related to such complaints. An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure will not be effective without such an assurance.

Management should undertake whatever measures are necessary to ensure that retaliation does not occur. For example, when management investigates a complaint of harassment, the official who interview s the parties and witnesses should remind these individuals about the prohibition against retaliation. Management also should scrutinize employment decisions affecting the complainant and witnesses during and after the investigation to ensure that such decisions are not based on retaliatory motives.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

No Post Wednesday and Thursday

My schedule is very hectic for today and tomorrow. Sorry, but I won't have time to post anything new. Please check back on Friday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Don't Care How You Get There...Just Get There!

I want to speak about latenesses and absences at work.

Now, let me make it clear, this post is NOT about the legitimate use of sick and vacation leave.

This post is about coming into the office at whatever time you feel like--and regardless of deadlines--or just not coming in at all. You know, using slick leave because you just don't want to go to work. Again, deadlines be damned!! You just don't show up at work and you might even wait until the last possible moment to let folks know you won't be showing up!!

Time and attendance has gotten many a person suspended or fired or simply on the receiving end of some dirty or suspicious looks from coworkers and managers.

I've seen many coworkers, especially young coworkers, forced to deal with issues related to punctuality AND attendance. You didn't know when they would show up for work, if at all. And, you could pretty much count on them to tip out of the office before their official schedule was completed.

What's worse is that I've had coworkers, who never learned, as they aged, that this isn't acceptable behavior.

As you progress through your career, you should start to realize that staff who are chronically late and/or are chronically absent can create some real BUSINESS-RELATED issues at work. It really can be a legitimate business-related concern, depending on how often you're coming in late or calling out.

Dependabilty, reliability, consistency, whatever you want to call it are part of the way we are all judged at work. So, that's why time and attendance can create so many problems for folks.

And, if you are dealing with race-related issues at work, time and attendance is an easy place to set yourself up for problems. You will surely hear about this on mid-year and/or year-end reviews and you might receive oral and written warnings regarding time and attendance.

I would caution everyone not to automatically accuse a manager of being racist if you were rightfully called out for dipping and diving. We all have to take personal responsibility and hold ourselves to the standards set out for all staff. If there are disparities in the way staff are treated based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., then, of course, the anti-discrimination laws will be relevant. But, you can't just go there to deflect accountability for poor attendance records.

To all my young brothers and sisters reading this. Get your behind to work. On time. On the days you're scheduled. And, leave at the time you're scheduled to leave.

Don't jeopardize your job and livelihood based on time and attendance problems. Even if you feel you are young, can easily get another job, are not working in the career you want to have in the future, and/or you are in school and don't give a crap about your employer, you should teach yourself the necessary skills to thrive. You should teach yourself positive habits that will help you excel and will put you in the mode of not giving people ammunition to use against you.

Show up on time and work hard. Let your performance be your calling card.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

QUICK TIPS: Be Engaged!!

African Americans often have to fight the perception that we don’t care about our work, projects, job, etc. We still must battle the stereotypes that we are lazy and only care about partying. Unfortuately, some people in the workplace look at African Americans as showing up at work simply to go through the motions and cash a check. They don't believe that we can feel invested in our company, that we care about the future of the business or that we want long and successful careers.

If you feel you are fighting the false perception that you aren't an active participant and that you don't care about your job, you should try to take every opportunity to show that you are engaged at work. Engagement means many things, including coming up with more efficient ways of doing a task, thinking of ideas and sharing them with higher-ups, being proactive and not waiting to be asked to do things that are within your authority to act on, speaking up if you notice problems or issues that impact productivity, etc.

One of my favorite ways of showing engagement is coming up with and sharing new ideas. This shows an interest in the business. It shows that you are thinking in a positive fashion and are solution oriented.

I will say this...If you make suggestions, come up with new processes, or act proactively and successfully to address an issue, you should document everything in writing. Documentation can be used to show that you've been an active participant at work, that you've come up with and shared ideas, that you've taken ownership of addressing certain issues and that you are committed to positively contributing to the success of the company.

Try to be as engaged as possible at work. Even if your ideas aren't always or ever adapated at work, the one thing you can't be accused of is not trying to contribute to a more successful and positive environment.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

If it Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck...

Your employer may be engaging in discrimination if your employer denies Black workers the same training opportunities that are provided to White staff.
At some companies, unequal training opportunities may be offered to Black workers or no training opportunities may exist at all! A lack of training in relevant areas can be used as a “legitimate” reason to overlook certain employees, when it comes to providing more challenging work, supervisory opportunities, and promotions.

While working for my former employer, I began taking on assignments in the Research & Evaluation department of our company. I was offered formal training at a local branch (Washington, DC) of a major training organization in the field. However, a Black executive approached me and said, “They send all the White people out to California. Demand to go to California. That’s where the best training is given.”

When I spoke to a Black coworker, she relayed the same story. White employees were automatically sent to California for the weeklong training session. Yet, I was told that I had to train locally. When I pressed for the California training, I heard excuses about how there might not be money in the budget. YET, all the while, a couple of White chicks were going out-of-state for the same training! I ended up getting the California training, but would have known nothing about the superior training provided in California without someone clueing me in to the facts!

I had a Black coworker ask for training directly related to her job requirements. She was told that she could use the last few thousand dollars in the budget to go to this training. HOWEVER…wait for it…

Her White supervisor, the same person that told her she could go to the training, raced to put through a training/travel voucher to go to the SAME TRAINING. Now, this White supervisor previously stated she was uninterested in this training course. But, as soon as her subordinate mentioned it, she gave her the okay, but made sure the money was unavailable for her to attend.

Why did she do this? Fear!

Her Black subordinate had a Master’s degree—the same as she did. The White supervisor had received her Master’s degree a mere 2 months before the Black employee, yet she was rated as superior enough to be this Black woman’s direct supervisor. The Black employee had an additional certification that her supervisor didn’t have—meaning the education advantage actually went to the Black subordinate. Therefore, this White supervisor was not going to let her subordinate get one more leg up on her. So, she pretended to be supportive of the training and then took the opportunity for herself. She knew damn well there was only enough money in the contract for one person to attend.

The Black employee was furious because she was told that she could use the remaining funds and those funds turned out to be depleted by the next day, when the Black employee submitted her form! This is how some Blacks are undermined in the workplace. We may be promised training that no one intends on us having, may be denied training for no valid reason or we may be offered inferior training opportunities—as I was offered.

You have to wonder why a company would intentionally provide some employees with inferior training, since that brings down the skill level of the company—as a whole. In my case, I know for a fact that race was the only difference in determining who would train at which location. One can only surmise that the point was to keep the Black workers at a lower level of expertise and knowledge compared to White staff. This would continue the unwritten policy at my company that did everything possible to ensure that White staff had an advantage over Black staff.

At this same company, some Blacks were denied training opportunities that were defined as being “premature” for them! What the hell does that mean, anyway? Training is just one way that employers may intentionally discriminate against Black staff. You have to look at what is happening at your company and decide if you are not receiving equal treatment. You should address any disparities with your supervisor and/or Human Resources!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Written Policies Alone Won't Let An Employer Get Away with Violations!

One of my favorite sections on the EEOC web site reads:

“…there are no safe harbors for employers based on the written content of policies and procedures. Even the best policy and complaint procedure won’t alone satisfy the burden of proving reasonable care…if the employer failed to implement its process effectively.”

I've posted these words before and I am posting them again because they are extremely important. Many employers will point to their anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies, whenever an employee insinuates or outright states that there is a race-based problem in the workplace. Employers can't wait to spit out lines such as:

--"We've got policies prohibiting that behavior;"

--"We don't tolerate that kind of stuff here;" and

--"That's not how we conduct business."

Everything goes back to the written policies, while enforcement of those policies seems to go by the wayside.

But, as the EEOC states, having written policies prohibiting violations of federal statutes ISN'T ENOUGH because there are NO SAFE HARBORS based on written policies alone.

So, if your employer wasn’t taking the necessary steps to ensure that its anti-harassment polices were properly enforced, your employer can wave a hard copy of their anti-harassment policy all day and all night and it won’t do them any good. Simply having a written anti-harassment policy won’t protect them from allegations of harassment nor will it prove that your employer has not violated Federal law.

For example, let’s say you’ve been harassed by your supervisor for approximately 5 months. You’ve tried to talk to your supervisor about the problem, but, since it hasn’t stopped the harassment, you’ve finally gotten the nerve to speak to the head of your department, as well as to Human Resources. In fact, you’ve had conversations with Human Resources repeatedly. Unfortunately, the harassment escalates--now that your supervisor knows you’ve gone over his or her head--and the offensive work environment continues for another 7 months. During that time, you lose weight, you can’t sleep, you are unable to get your job done because of the mistreatment, and you’re denied a promotion that you were promised at the beginning of the work year.

Suddenly, other staff begin to complain about the supervisor and Human Resources finally steps in to put the supervisor on written warning. The supervisor is also sent to supervisor’s training and is put on probation. HR sends out an email statement to all staff declaring, “As our policy states, we won’t tolerate harassment of any kind. We have identified a problem with one supervisor and have taken appropriate action to bring the behavior to an immediate end.”

Guess what?

The fact that HR finally did something may not mean squat under Federal law.

Your company has a written policy against harassment. However, during the 12 months you were being harassed they didn’t take any steps to prevent or stop the harassment. It doesn’t matter if your company’s HR department immediately put a stop to the harassment after other people began to complain.

In this example, you complained and you had been doing so for some time. While HR and the company did nothing, damage was done to you professionally, emotionally, and possibly physically (e.g., high blood pressure, depression, etc.)

Therefore, your company may not be able to successfully argue that the existence of their written policy and their final response is evidence they made a proper and forceful reaction to the illegal behavior. Your company may be liable for damages because they are responsible for the existence, length, and severity of the behavior and, ultimately, for the consequences to your career, such as being denied a promotion by your harasser.

This is especially true if knowledge of your harassment was widespread in your department or throughout the company and no one with authority ever did anything about it. The law expects employers to not only prevent harassment, but to take immediate corrective action to stop harassment. Employers are held to that standard, among others.

In this example, you may have legal recourse because your company did not show reasonable care in effectively implementing its own policies in a timely fashion. When you combine the slow response, which allowed the harassment to continue and escalate, with the company’s own policies, which may have listed penalties for harassment that were not taken by your employer until a year after the harassment began, you can see how you go about building and documenting a case that uses your company’s own policies against them and shows how they intentionally mishandled your complaint.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Document Everything!

There are some people in the workplace, who become absolute nightmares whenever they are stressed out by deadlines or other work or professional issues. When they’re not stressed out and frustrated, they may be great to work with. But, when they are feeling any kind of pressure, they may become demanding, demeaning, bullying, etc. in how they interact with everyone around them. These people make it seem as though you are working with a Jekyll and Hyde type character. While these people are difficult to work with, at least they are only problematic on a part-time basis.

Unfortunately, there are some people in the workplace, who are venomous and nasty all of the time. They like to be sharp-tongued, sarcastic and offensive just for the hell of abusing their coworkers or subordinates. If they are racist, then they are likely going out of their way to abuse members of other races. Working with these people is absolutely demoralizing. Just seeing them approach can make your stomach flutter with nervous anticipation of problems interacting with them.

Regardless of whether or not you are dealing with part-time or full-time abuse at work, you have to make sure to document everything that’s going on. Even if you want to try to be the so-called bigger person in the situation or you are fearful of making a complaint for fear of looking like a whiner or out of fear of retaliation, you may change your mind at some point and want to make an official complaint to a supervisor or to Human Resources.

Once you know you are dealing with someone who intentionally or unintentionally shows they have no self-control, self-censorship, compassion, empathy or professionalism, you should immediately begin documenting this individual—even if it is a supervisor or someone else in authority. Remember, as you are documenting the individual, you should also be making them aware that you find their behavior to be rude and hostile and you should inform them that their method of communication does not work well with you.

You can ask if you can meet face-to-face to talk about how you can work better together and to come to some understanding. But, again, you should be documenting the person despite any efforts to correct the problem without managerial intervention.

You can document inappropriate and offensive behavior by creating a log/tracking sheet to document any incidents of abusive, hostile, harassing or retaliatory actions from the person. This might include threats to your job or threats of physical violence, having papers or other items thrown at you, being subjecting to name-calling or racial epithets, being screamed at privately or in front of coworkers, being given menial assignments, etc. All of this negative and potentially illegal behavior should be tracked.

On top of logging incidents with this person, you should also keep a list of witnesses. These witnesses can confirm your version of events to management or Human Resources. This will provide you with credibility about your complaints and will demonstrate to management that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. When compiling a list of witnesses, also keep track of the specific incidences that each person witnessed. By tracking witnesses with incidences, you will diminish any confusion at a later time and you will make it easier for an internal or external investigator to proceed with their questioning and to come to an understanding of what’s been transpiring at work.

You must also keep electronic and hard copies of rude, offensive, and hostile emails or other written correspondence with this person. Save the electronic files and forward them to your personal email accounts online (e.g., an AOL or Yahoo! or Google email account). You can also forward rude and offensive emails to the individual’s supervisor or manager raising the issue about the lack of professionalism being displayed and pointing out the hostile/harassing tone of the communication. Ask for the supervisor to address the issue with their subordinate. Make sure they understand that you will make a complaint to Human Resources, if nothing is done.

Another thing you can do is to save rude, offensive, and hostile voice mail messages. Never delete these messages. Better yet, use a tape recorder to record the message, in case someone else inadvertently deletes the message for you. You would not believe how corporate spies will rummage through your office on company orders. I’ve had it done to me and have seen this done to a coworker. Files in my office were moved, items on my desk were examined, contents of my drawers weren’t as I left them, etc. Always assume that someone might destroy your evidence and consider ways to preserve any key evidence you might need at a later time.

If the person is refusing to correct their behavior, despite your requests, seek out their supervisor and have a discussion—if you haven’t already done so. Present your evidence and state unequivocally that you won’t tolerate the abuse any longer. Ask the person what they plan to put an end to the abuse. If after a short time, nothing changes, contact Human Resources—or you can do this jointly with speaking to the supervisor. If your supervisor or manager is the perpetrator of the abuse, contact Human Resources or your supervisor’s supervisor/manager. If your supervisor is your abuser, you don’t have to notify your supervisor about your official complaint because the law recognizes the conflict with that scenario and does not force employees to report abuse and harassment to the abuser and harasser.

The nuclear option is reporting potentially illegal abuse to the EEOC, the Office of Human Rights or some other fair practice employment agency.

Remember, you do not have to subject yourself to abuse and harassment at work. Regardless of how well you are being paid, a hostile work environment is NEVER part of the deal!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Prohibited Policies and Practices: Employment/Hiring

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.

The laws enforced by EEOC prohibit an employer or other covered entity from using neutral employment policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative effect on applicants or employees of a particular race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin, or on an individual with a disability or class of individuals with disabilities, if the polices or practices at issue are not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business. The laws enforced by EEOC also prohibit an employer from using neutral employment policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older, if the policies or practices at issue are not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

It is also illegal for an employer to recruit new employees in a way that discriminates against them because of their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

For example, an employer's reliance on word-of-mouth recruitment by its mostly Hispanic work force may violate the law if the result is that almost all new hires are Hispanic.

Application & Hiring
It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. For example, an employer may not refuse to give employment applications to people of a certain race.

An employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

If an employer requires job applicants to take a test, the test must be necessary and related to the job and the employer may not exclude people of a particular race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, or individuals with disabilities. In addition, the employer may not use a test that excludes applicants age 40 or older if the test is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

Job Assignments & Promotions
It is illegal for an employer to make decisions about job assignments and promotions based on an employee's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. For example, an employer may not give preference to employees of a certain race when making shift assignments and may not segregate employees of a particular national origin from other employees or from customers.

An employer may not base assignment and promotion decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

If an employer requires employees to take a test before making decisions about assignments or promotions, the test may not exclude people of a particular race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin, or individuals with disabilities, unless the employer can show that the test is necessary and related to the job. In addition, the employer may not use a test that excludes employees age 40 or older if the test is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

LEGAL BRIEF: Big Lots to Pay $400,000 for Race Harassment (Hispanic to Black)

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.

People often ask if minorities can be guilty of race-based violations of law. Yes! Black to Hispanic, Hispanic to Black or even Black to Black. The race doesn't matter, the potential law-breaking matters! See below for details about the case:


EEOC Alleged Black Employees Were Subjected to Racial Jokes and Slurs By a Hispanic Supervisor and Co-Workers

LOS ANGELES – On February 16th, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of its race harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Big Lots, Inc., the nation’s largest broadline closeout retailer. The settlement includes total monetary relief of $400,000 to be paid to least five employees along with a group of unidentified class members. Big Lots also agreed to a two-year consent decree that calls for the implementation of a new policy, training, procedures and court monitoring to address harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The EEOC originally filed suit against Big Lots in September 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (EEOC v. Big Lots, Inc., CV-08-06355-GW(CTx)). The agency alleged that Big Lots violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it subjected a black maintenance mechanic and other black employees to race harassment and discrimination at its Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., distribution center. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that an immediate supervisor and co-workers, all Hispanic, made racially derogatory jokes, comments, slurs and epithets, including the use of the words “n----r” and “monkey.” Despite learning of the harassment, the company took no steps to prevent or correct it.

“Working in a job that they valued highly, the employees in this case rightfully expected to earn a living free of discrimination,” said Anna Park, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “They should not have had to endure harassment or discrimination based on their race. The EEOC will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure that employees at all workplaces are respected and free from harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”

EEOC District Director Olophius Perry added, “The EEOC is pleased that Big Lots voluntarily entered into a settlement that includes injunctive relief designed to ensure that its black employees are not subjected to harassment or discrimination.”

In fiscal year 2009, the EEOC received 33,579 charges alleging race-based discrimination, accounting for about 36% percent of the agency's private sector caseload. Historically, race-based charges have been one of the most frequent types of filing with EEOC offices nationwide.

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


Monday, March 01, 2010

Try to Control Your Work Environment

I work with a lot of young people. They do a lot of complaining. And, while some of them are vocal and speak to managers and highers-up about inequities or other issues in our workplace, many of them simply complain to each other. I don't think that has anything to do with age because I've had my fair share of older coworkers, who showed that same tendency. My advice is always the same, no matter who I'm speaking to...

Whenever possible, try to control your work environment.

For instance, if you are having communication issues with a coworker or manager, maybe think about sitting down with them to discuss ways that you can communicate better with each other. I've had to sit down with a coworker and say something like, "Look, it seems like we are always speaking past each other, when we have a conversation...wires seem to get crossed. Maybe we could understand each other/avoid confusion if we..."

I've also had a conversation with someone that went something like this, "You probably don't intend to make me feel this way, but you have a way of speaking that comes across as condescending." I coached it with "you probably don't intend..." because it's a way of saving someone face and making them a bit less defensive, so they can actually hear what I have to say and hopefully make a positive change. My thing is "Hey, we have this problem...what can we do?"

Now, I'm very plain-spoken and to the point. So, I'll just come right out and say what I have to say, if I decide I need to speak on something. I don't have it in me to do some long-winded and around the way preamble to an issue. I'll just approach, ask if I can have a word with you and spit it out. But, that's me. That's my style.

You can speak to someone in whatever way works for you. But, what I would suggest is that you don't communicate about a senstive issue via email--initially. Many a company will use that email as an example that you are "closed off" or that you are "confrontational" or that you made "threats" or were "intimidating" or "only chose to speak to people by email and never face-to-face" or they can accuse you of any number of fake and distracting non-issues.

So, go ahead and try to talk to someone. Keep the mood as light as possible. Try to use humor. And, try to find some common ground. Believe it or not, I had issues with a senior manager and what made things better was when she learned we both like the show I Love Lucy. Stupid, but true. Suddenly, she had jokes and was talking to me about certain episodes. She wasn't so bad to work with anymore. Yes, she still had some ways. But, I could now tolerate her. Before that, it was a nightmare dealing with her. But, making that ridiculous connection with her changed things dramatically for me at work.

If you're having issues, try to work things out. Don't just complain.

We spend more time at work and with our coworkers than we sometimes spend at home and with loved ones and friends.

Try to make your enviornment as positive as you can. Take some control!
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