On February 4, 2013 we said that juries do not like nooses or the N-word in the workplace. This was in the context of a verdict by a North Carolina federal jury which deliberated for only one hour before awarding $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages against a trucking company on behalf of two former African-American truck drivers who were repeatedly subjected to such racist harassment.
The EEOC now reports that “[i]n the latest of a series of successes in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) challenges to workplace racial harassment,” an appeals court affirmed this judgment. An EEOC attorney said that “The court’s affirmation of this verdict sends a strong message to employers. First the jury, and now the appellate court, spoke to this employer loud and clear – racial harassment will not be tolerated.”
No doubt to underscore its commitment to target severe racial and sexual harassment, as we have noted over the last year or so, the EEOC’s press release contained a side-bar, which we haven’t seen before, in which it said that “In the past two months, the EEOC has had several cases involving severe racial harassment, including a $2.7 million settlement against an environmental clean-up company, and a harassment case in which a white employee was the victim.” It then linked to a list of these cases.
Jenny L. Sharpe, Esq., a Charlotte attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs, told us today that “The jury heard profoundly appalling evidence of racial animus. The claimants’ testimony regarding the racial harassment was substantiated by the testimony of a former white driver who confirmed that he had seen a hangman’s noose within the workplace and confirmed the use of racial slurs, including the “n-word,” “coon,” and “porch monkey.”
She noted that “The company did not file a Rule 50(b) motion after trial challenging the sufficiency of the evidence,” but only challenged several evidentiary rulings.”
The Severe Racial Harassment In This Case
Many readers wrote to us last year that they were shocked and appalled at the racism which the trial exposed. One plaintiff was repeatedly subjected to slurs by his supervisor and other employees such as “n—-r,” “monkey” and “boy,” was asked by a white co-worker if he wanted to be the “coon” in their “coon hunt,” and had a co-worker come to him with a noose saying “This is for you. Do you want to hang from the family tree?”
The second driver claimed that the company’s general manager told him, when he was the only African-American employee, that he was the company’s “token black,” told him “Don’t find a noose with your name on it,” and spoke to him of having some of his “friends” visit the driver in the middle of the night.
The EEOC reported then that in the same case the court further granted a three-year injunction against the employer, which enjoins it from discriminating against any person on the basis of race or in retaliation for opposing practices unlawful under Title VII; and further requires it to:
1. implement a written anti-discrimination policy;
2. conduct training on Title VII to all employees and to all owners involved in the company’s operations;
3. post the anti-discrimination policy and a notice to employees regarding the lawsuit; and
4. provide the EEOC with periodic reports regarding complaints about racial harassment.
See our earlier blogs:
On October 2, 2012, we quoted an EEOC attorney as stating: “Racial harassment too often continues to occur in today’s workplaces while employers intentionally look the other way. A case where the victim received death threats at his home, as we found here, is especially abhorrent and unacceptable. The EEOC will continue to fight against this illegal and uncivilized misconduct.”
And on December 3, 2012 we asked, apropos another case: “Will employers eventually learn that these [acts and slurs] are offensive and discriminatory, and will lead to EEOC crackdowns and monetary awards?” We can now add to this list of sanctions jury awards of substantial punitive damages. There are enough meritless discrimination claims brought these days that bedevil employers — racism such as exhibited in this case cannot be tolerated.