The EEOC has come out swinging against offensive racial banter which heretofore has been dismissed by employers as routine and harmless “locker room talk.”
The EEOC, on behalf of two African-American employees, has just sued a Chicago wholesale food company for permitting racial slurs to be made by both black and white supervisors “to scold black employees,” as well as for tolerating “frequent, offensive racial banter among hourly workers.” The company called this simply “locker room talk.”
One EEOC attorney declared that “Any attempt to argue that the alleged racial slurs at issue are merely locker room talk will not wash. Patently offensive, racist speech on the job – whether in the executive suite, on the loading dock, or in the locker room – damages working conditions and violates federal law.” Another said that “so-called jokes between some co-workers can make a demeaning and hostile environment for others. … And when complaints that supervisors use racial slurs go ignored, that is unacceptable.”
Finally, a third EEOC attorney said that “However acceptable racist speech may once have been, it is not now. When a historically offensive and degrading term is used in the workplace, it’s bad enough. If that behavior happens repeatedly, and in spite of complaints from offended employees, that is harassment, even when those using the word are of the same race as the offended employee.”
Take heed, employers: jokes and banter will not seem so funny or acceptable, no matter who utters it, when the EEOC comes knocking.