Despite progress in other areas, racial harassment persists

With the arrival of the 21st century, it is a time to marvel at the progress that we, the human race, have made in areas such as technology and medicine over the past several decades. How ever, the great progress made in these areas is a sad reminder of the meager progress we have made in race relations. Even today, harassment towards minority groups continues, due to ignorance or plain bigotry.

Sadly, this harassment often spills over into the workplace, which can lead to diminished productivity and other problems. Although all racial groups can potentially face racial harassment, much of it is directed towards African-Americans. Recently, the news carried a story of racial harassment at a Daimler Trucks plant in Oregon. At the plant, African-American workers filed three complaints against the plant, alleging several separate instances of racial harassment.

The first complaint alleged that a worker threw a tool at an African-American worker, calling him a racial epithet. In a second complaint, an African-American worker alleged that his manager regularly made offensive statements about his race and commented that African-American workers are slower than others. The final complaint, filed by several African-American employees, alleged that the group is continually exposed to racial slurs and offensive graffiti at the plant. In all instances, the employees claimed that their complaints about their treatment to management went unanswered.

California prohibitions on racial harassment

Since racial harassment is hardly limited to other states, it is important for you, as a California resident, to be familiar with your right to work in a harassment-free environment. The California Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA) recognizes the right of all employees to be free of harassment due to their race, color, ancestry or national origin, regardless of whether the harassment was perpetrated by a supervisor or other employee.

Racial harassment can take many forms. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it can include:

  • Racial slurs
  • Offensive remarks about a person's race or color
  • Displaying symbols or images that are racially offensive
  • Racially charged insults, name-calling or mockery
  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Intimidation or violence

Under the law, isolated incidents may not qualify as actionable racial harassment. Instead, the harassment must be severe and pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment. In determining whether such an environment occurs, the court considers:

  • Whether the plaintiff is a member of a protected class (e.g. color, race or national origin).
  • Whether the plaintiff experienced harassment because he or she was a member of the protected class.
  • Whether the harassment was severe, widespread and pervasive enough that a reasonable member of the plaintiff's protected class would consider the work environment to be hostile or abusive.
  • Whether the plaintiff considered the work environment to be abusive or hostile.

Remedies available

If you have experienced racial harassment on the job, it is important to first report the incident to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or EEOC as soon as possible. The appropriate department will investigate the matter and may resolve the matter administratively through fines and other actions.

You may also request a right-to-sue letter from the agency where you filed your complaint; this allows you to file a private lawsuit against your employer. In the lawsuit, you may be able to recover monetary damages for emotional distress, loss of earnings, punitive damages, and other financial losses.

When faced with racial harassment, it is important to involve an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can guide you through the administrative process, recover the compensation that you are entitled to by law and enforce your right to earn your livelihood in an environment free of harassment.