Nooses, n-words, and confederate flags, but no discrimination #shrm14

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Over the weekend, I read this opinion in a race-discrimination with facts so egregious, they’d make David Duke blush.

Let me set the scene for you. This is a workplace where, allegedly, several of the white employees displayed Confederate flag paraphernalia. I’ll spare you a verbatim review of the racial graffiti and epithets — you can view it here — but, it was pretty darn bad. And what about multiple nooses in the workplace — eight in total.

[Sidebar: I once attended a deposition of an Ivy League-educated HR Manager who testified that there was a time when she did not understand how a hangman’s noose in the workplace would offend a black employee. Hubba-what?!? Folks, just so we’re clear here, a hangman’s noose is the single worst symbol of racial hate. Period. So eight of ’em is hella-bad!]

All that hate, but no discrimination.

There is no question that nooses, n-words, graffiti and Confederate flags are symbols of racial animus and violence. But that was not enough to convince the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate several of the race-discrimination claims that the lower court had dismissed.

Dismissed?!? Why? Because many of the plaintiffs lacked firsthand knowledge of the bad stuff.

As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned: “an employee alleging a hostile work environment cannot complain about conduct of which he was oblivious for the purpose of proving that his work environment was objectively hostile.”

In other words, an employee cannot rely on evidence of racial harassment of which he is not personally aware to prove that his work environment was objectively hostile. And while some of the plaintiffs were able to show that they were personally exposed to acts of race discrimination, the ones who relied on “me too” evidence about those incidents had their cases dismissed.

Employer wins.

Employer takeaway.

But, not really. Because, well, it probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending these legal actions (without factoring in the cost of paying judgments). So, for the love of God, if your workplace at all resembles the allegations presented here…

Well, you’re probably not reading this blog anyway.

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  • MarySchaefer

    Thank you for keeping us up to date, Eric, though this makes my heart ache.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mary. I understand how the court reached its conclusion. But it is sad that this racist sh*t (allegedly) transpired. No one should have to endure that.