The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced last week that it reached a settlement with the owners of the North Carolina-based Mooresville Hampton Inn following a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against the owners last year for racial harassment.
According to the lawsuit, a Black housekeeper (referred in the lawsuit only as “the Housekeeper”) engaged in harassment toward several Caucasian employees that was severe and pervasive, based on their race — Caucasian.
The EEOC alleged that from approximately April 2017 through October 2018, the Housekeeper “called the Claimants racially derogatory names, and used racially derogatory language when speaking to or referring to Caucasian employees.”
The Housekeeper allegedly referred to them as “white bch,” “white ho” and “white trash” when speaking to them and others about them.
The Housekeeper “routinely and in a hostile and disparaging manner used the term ‘white tree people’ to refer to Caucasian employees who took breaks under a tree,” cursed at Caucasian employees, and “chastised African-American employees for socializing with Caucasian employees, saying things like ‘I can’t believe you are sitting with the white tree people.’”
The employees alleged that the housekeeper prevented them from doing their jobs and sabotaged their work. She also refused to follow the direction of the Caucasian supervisor, and would not, for example, release her cleaned rooms for inspection to allow the Caucasian worker to adequately inspect the rooms.
The owners became liable for this harassment when management became on notice of it, and failed to act.
According to the case, the general manager was aware of the attempts at sabotage, and was present when the housekeeper referred to Caucasian employees as “white tree people” and failed to take any action to stop the behaviors. The employees claimed they reported the offensive conduct of the housekeeper to the general manager on more than one occasion.
According to the case, “Defendant failed to take prompt and effective action to stop the racial harassment of the Claimants by the Housekeeper” and “The Housekeeper’s racially hostile comments and conduct continued after the Claimants complained to the General Manager.”
The owner was also on notice and failed to act, according to the case. The EEOC alleged, “On or about August 13, 2018, [an employee] complained to Defendant’s Owner that the Housekeeper harassed her and called her racially derogatory names. The Owner told [the employee] he was done with the conversation and did not permit [the employee] to continue.”
This led the employee to believe she would receive no relief and she resigned.
Among other non-monetary relief, the defendants agreed to pay $60,000 to settle the matter.
In announcing the settlement, EEOC trial attorney Samuel Williams said, “All employees deserve and should expect a workplace free of racial harassment. The EEOC will continue to work to ensure that all types of unlawful harassment are eradicated from the workplace.”
Harassment based on a race is a form of illegal harassment under federal law. The conduct was based on race, was objectively and subjectively offensive and was severe or pervasive, and it greatly impacted the employees’ emotional well-being.
Furthermore, the owner and general manager were allegedly aware of the harassment and didn’t take remedial action to immediately stop it.
Some may improperly refer to this as “reverse” discrimination. It isn’t. Harassment is a form of discrimination. The Housekeeper engaged in illegal discrimination when she harassed her Caucasian co-workers because of their race.
Employers cannot tolerate any behaviors that could lead to a claim of harassment, and should take measures to prevent harassment, and train and empower managers on how to address it upon becoming aware of the conduct.
No employee should be terrorized in the workplace, or mistreated to the point of having to quit their jobs, be referred to with racial slurs, or have their work sabotaged.
When a workplace ignores these behaviors or turns a blind eye to them, employees suffer as does the entire work environment.
Training managers and creating a culture of respect is much more cost-effective than causing employees to suffer in a toxic and illegal work environment and defend against lawsuits.