WRS Environment and Infrastructure Inc. (also known as WRS Compass) will settle a racial discrimination case brought by the EEOC for $2.75 million, according to an EEOC press release. In addition to the financial settlement, WRC Compass signed a three-year agreement to allow the EEOC to monitor its progress in curing the conditions that enabled the harassment.
Ordinarily, when you hear about a racial discrimination case, it's a matter of subtext and bias leading to lesser pay or negative employment decisions.
Most employers are subtle. WRC Compass' Lake Calumet site was not.
Workers hung hangman's nooses on trucks to intimidate the company's seven black employees. They also used the "N-word" repeatedly, gave the black employees less favorable work assignments, and made physical threats. Four white employees who associated with the black employees were taunted with the terms "n----r lover" and "coon lover," the EEOC found.
$2.75 million? That's it?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits exactly this sort of reprehensible conduct. Employers are not allowed to harass employees, nor are they allowed to make employment decisions based on race, gender, religion, or other inappropriate reasons.
Here, the harassment actually sounds like it came from the fellow employees, while the company looked the other way.
While employers may not be liable for all of their employees' conduct, they certainly can be held liable if they enable their employees to harass each other on the job site. Steps such as harassment training and a clearly written and displayed anti-harassment policy can help protect an employer from becoming liable for their employees' stupidity.
Employers should also quickly and fully investigate all claims of harassment and discrimination, not only to prevent such occurrences from happening again, but also to help shield themselves from liability.
- Consult a Chicago Employment Law Attoney (FindLaw)
- Racial Discrimination in the Workplace (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- United Continental Hit With Racial Discrimination Suit (FindLaw's Chicago Employment Law Blog)
- Is it Just Us, or Has the EEOC Stepped its Game Up? (FindLaw's Chicago Employment Law Blog)