My Co-workers Are Racist! What Can I Do?

Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: My Co-workers are drawing racist hate symbols on bathroom walls and hanging nooses; how can I stop them? I don’t feel safe at work because my co-workers hate black people, what can I do? My employer seems to think this isn’t a big deal, can I sue for a hostile work environment?

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martian Luthor King J.R. delivered his famous “I have a dream“ speech. In his infamous speech, Dr. King talks about how he dreams of a day when people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Unfortunately, in 2019, Dr. King’s dream has not yet been realized, and for Marcus Boyd and his fellow African American co-workers at a General Motors plant in Toledo, Ohio the simple act of going to work was far from a dream, it was a nightmare.

According to his complaint, beginning in 2015, almost every day at work Boyd and his fellow African American employees were confronted with images and symbols of hate, including nooses, swastikas, white-only signs, racial jokes, and racist poems, to name a few. Boyd and his fellow Black workers reported this despicable harassment to their supervisors and to General Motors’ human resources department. However, after reporting this racially hostile work environment to management and HR, instead of seeing a reduction in harassment, the despicable conduct seemed to escalate. After the race discrimination complaints had been made to management, African American employees found a note in the plant around the Christmas holidays that read: “Mark Edwards (one of the African American employees who complained to management) is a lying lazy nigger just trying to get paid. So is Ray Woods. You can hang any color person in a noose.” (For more examples of the alleged despicable race discrimination and hostile work environment, see the linked article in the Toledo Blade).

Finally, in April 2018, Boyd and his fellow co-workers filed a race discrimination claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC“), which is the state version of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“), against General Motors claiming that General Motors allowed a racially hostile work environment to exist in regard to its African American employees. Unfortunately, filing with the OCRC and/or the EEOC may limit key rights, claims and damage that is available, which is it is best to first consult with experienced employment law attorneys to help plot the best course of action. (See Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This FirstFile With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).

General Motors attempted to hide from liability by saying that they were unable to identify individual employees who were engaging in the racially hostile conduct, and by pointing to the fact that it regularly provided sensitivity training to its employees. However, these arguments did not hold weight for the fact finders in the case. Upon investigation, the commission found that:

Nooses, swastikas, White-Only signs, ethnic slurs, racial jokes, offensive or derogatory comments, racist poems are repetitive in Respondent’s (General Motors) workplace. Nooses and swastikas are symbols of racial hatred. The hangman’s noose is one of the most repugnant of all racist symbols, because it is itself an instrument of violence.”

The opinion went on to say:

The totality of circumstances was ignored, and Respondent treated the situation like a single-issue harassment case, not a hostile work environment case. Respondent has presented no new evidence to warrant a reversal of the Commission’s decision. …

The weight of the evidence clearly established that the Respondent did not take steps reasonably calculated to eradicate the conduct, it has never stopped. There are plenty of witness statements, including some of Respondent’s management, which support the probable cause finding.

This sounds like a huge win, but all this gets the employees is the right see if they can negotiate a settlement. As the EEOC explains in its own words:

If the EEOC determines there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, both parties will be issued a “Letter of Determination” telling them that there is reason to believe that discrimination occurred. The Letter of Determination invites the parties to join the agency in seeking to settle the charge through an informal and confidential process known as conciliation. Conciliation is a voluntary process, and the parties must agree to the resolution – neither the EEOC nor the employer can be forced to accept particular terms. The EEOC is required by Title VII to attempt to resolve findings of discrimination on charges through conciliation. The EEOC strongly encourages the parties to take advantage of this opportunity to resolve the charge informally and before the EEOC considers the matter for litigation. Conciliation is an efficient, effective, and inexpensive method of resolving employment discrimination charges.

As you can read for yourself, the employer cannot be forced to participate and if the employer actually shows up for the mediation, it is not required to offer any amount of money at all. Indeed, using the year 2014 as its example, the EEOC brags that it resolved 1,031 cases but then later admits that its mediation or conciliation efforts failed 1,714 times – which did not include the amount of times employers simply refused to participate. You must dig a little deeper to find out that in 2014, employees filed 88,778 charges with the EEOC. This means that only about three percent made it to the mediation or conciliation process (again with over 62 percent of those cases failing). So, if you are following along, the EEOC is bragging about settling about one percent of the claims that are filed. Unfortunately, their numbers get worse. In the EEOC’s own words: “In fiscal year 2014, the agency filed 133 lawsuits against employers accusing them of unlawful employment discrimination.” So that you don’t have to scramble for a calculator, that is .15 percent of the claims that are filed. You can also see that getting to mediation or conciliation does not guarantee that the EEOC or the OCRC will then proceed with your claim if it doesn’t settle – in fact based on the above numbers, it remains very unlikely. Still worse, this EEOC or OCRC process can take years.

At the time of this writing, the African American General Motors workers case has not yet fully concluded, but, it doesn’t take expert employment lawyers to realize that what General Motors allowed to happen at its Toledo plant was not only morally wrong, it was illegal.

What Boyd and his fellow workers encountered at General motors is what is referred to in the employment law community as a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is a work place in which there is harassment or discrimination because of race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability discrimination that is so severe and pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of a person’s employment and creates an abusive working environment. In plain English, this means that the discrimination was so terrible that an average person couldn’t do their job.

To prove that discrimination and harassment is “severe and pervasive,” an employee must show that the work environment is both subjectively hostile or, hostile to that specific employee personally, and objectively hostile, meaning any reasonable person would find the environment in which the employee was forced to work to be unbearable. For example, in the case of the General Motors workers, being faced with such hateful speech and symbols of violence on an almost daily basis prevented them from being able to concentrate on their work or feel safe in their workplace was so severe and pervasive that General Motors was found to have allowed a hostile work environment to exist.

You may have experienced a hostile work environment in the past, or you may be experiencing one right now. You may be thinking to yourself my co-workers make a lot of racial jokes that make me uncomfortable, or someone drew a swastika in my workplace bathroom, and it made me feel unsafe, or my co-workers casually use the racial epithets around me like the N-word, and I want it to stop. The question is what can you do about it?

The good news is that there are legal enforcement mechanisms that can help put a stop to hostile work environments, or at the very least compensate you for having to out up such a hostile environment. Hostile work environments based on race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability discrimination are illegal under both State and Federal Law. To determine if you have a claim, and where and when to file said claim, you need to call the right attorney.

In some cases, hostile work environments become so unbearable that an employee feels they need to quit in order to be safe, or to simply remove themselves from a toxic situation. If you are working in a hostile work environment and are thinking about quitting, don’t! At least not until you call the right attorney. At The Spitz Law Firm, we can discuss your possible claims against your employer for creating a hostile work environment, as well as the steps you can take in order to protect both your claim and your own well-being.

If you are searching for an employment attorney because you have already quite due to a hostile work environment, there is still hope that you may have a claim! In some cases, if the employee is able to show that the employer purposely made the employee’s working conditions so terrible that employee had no choice but to quit, in order to protect their own well-being and sanity. The quitting may be considered a “constructive” termination or discharge. In other words, even though the employer never actually fired the employee, the employee is considered terminated because of how the employer’s behaved. If an employee is constructively discharged, they may still have a claim. For example, in the case of the African American General Motors workers some of them quit because they feared for their physical safety. It was found that the working conditions for these employees at General Motors was so bad that any reasonable person in their position would have quit as well, and their claims were safe. If you have quit your job because you were being harassed based on your race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability discrimination, then call the right attorney, and the harassment was so terrible that you felt you had no choice but to quit, then you need to call the right attorney at The Spitz Law Firm and we can help you analyze your claims against your employer for both creating a hostile work environment, and constructive discharge.

If you feel that you are working in a hostile work environment, and being harassed based on your race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability discrimination, don’t wait! Call the right attorney. Race discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. When you call the right attorney right now, you can schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our Cincinnati attorneys at (513) 818-3688. Call our Cleveland attorneys at (216) 291-4744. Call our Columbus attorneys at (614) 335-4685. Call our Toledo attorneys at (419) 960-5926. When you schedule an appointment, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from The Spitz Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this race discrimination page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking: “What should I do about my racist boss”, “I’m being discriminated against because I’m Black”, “my manager is discriminating against me by calling me nigger” or “How do I report race discrimination at work”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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