Will training white employees on “white fragility” and other concepts linked to racism create a hostile work environment? Probably not.


Last week, I wrote (here) about a white college professor who successfully alleged that his employer subjected him to a hostile work environment, at least, in part, because of particular training and conferences he attended about racism.

But, the same court clarified that “[t]raining on concepts such as ‘white privilege,’ ‘white fragility,’ implicit bias, or critical race theory can contribute positively to nuanced, important conversations about how to form a healthy and inclusive working environment.”

Last night, I read about a white employee in Colorado who claimed his former employer subjected him to a hostile work environment by requiring him to attend anti-harassment training. According to the plaintiff, this training included “sweeping negative generalizations regarding individuals who are white, and other gross generalizations about members of other racial demographics” with training materials that “were based upon a glossary of terms stating that all whites are racist, that white individuals created the concept of race in order to justify the oppression of people of color, and that `whiteness’ and `white supremacy’ affect all `people of color within a U.S. context.'”

In the case I discussed last week, the plaintiff pled enough facts in his complaint to show that his treatment was pervasive enough to be actionable.

An employer creates a hostile work environment when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

In the case I read last night, the Colorado man could not clear that bar. Why? His complaint did not contain enough facts to show the training, or the discussion of the training materials occurred at a pervasive frequency.

“At best,” concluded the court, “Plaintiff alleges that he participated in a mandatory training that was ‘based upon’ a glossary of terms and that the glossary of terms included terms or phrases such as ‘white fragility,’ ‘white supremacy,’ and ‘white exceptionalism.’ But because Plaintiff offers no factual allegations explaining how or how often these terms were used in the mandatory training or otherwise, Plaintiff fails to allege that he experienced a ‘steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments’ plausibly supporting a hostile work environment claim.”

Was the behavior severe? No. None of the terms the plaintiff highlighted are racial epithets. Even if the defendant were somehow preaching that all whites are racist, the court did not think a statement like that would affect the conditions of employment to a sufficiently significant degree to violate Title VII.

Unless replete with essentialist, deterministic, and negative language, anti-harassment training that explores the experience of racial discrimination as an educational tool won’t expose your organization to liability under Title VII.

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