On January 27, 2014, a construction company that conducts business around the world settled a racial harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of one of the company’s employees who worked as a technician for the company. State and federal laws prohibit racially-based harassment in workplaces, and people should be aware of how they can defend their rights in the workplace.
Employee suffered offensive treatment
The lawsuit that the EEOC filed on behalf of the employee alleged that the man, who is African American, experienced racial insults and other offensive language, graffiti and even death threats from white employees. The man had complained about the language and the graffiti, and two employees subsequently showed up at the man’s house late at night, threatening to kill the man if he lodged further complaints.
The man said that he reported the threats to the company, but the company did not take any action because the threats occurred away from the workplace.
As part of the settlement, the construction company will pay $50,000. The company must also provide training on racial harassment, anti-retaliation and the proper methods for handling employee complaints of racial harassment and retaliation. The company must also report all racial discrimination and harassment complaints it receives to the EEOC.
Racial harassment laws
Employers have a duty to provide workplaces that are free from harassment for their employees. Racial harassment in the workplace is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. California law also prohibits racial harassment. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act offers even broader protections from racial harassment than federal law, in that it applies to employers with at least one or more employees and does not recognize some of the defenses that employers may raise under federal law. California law does not allow an employer to show that it took reasonable steps to prevent harassment and was unaware of harassment because an employee did not use the employer’s reporting and investigation procedure. Protected categories are also broader under the FEHA than under federal law, so more conduct may count as harassment because of these expanded protected categories.
Protect your rights
Employees should not have to tolerate racial harassment in the workplace. Employers have legal obligations to ensure that workplaces are free from racial harassment, but they do not always meet those obligations. Employees who are victims of racial harassment do not have to suffer in silence; they have rights. If you have questions about racial harassment, speak with a skilled California employment law attorney who can discuss your options with you.