Ethnic slurs, racial jokes, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on a person’s race constitute unlawful racial harassment if the work-related conduct creates an intimidating, hostile of offensive working environment, or interferes with the individual’s work performance.
Such alleged employment-related misconduct violates Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which are supposed to protect individuals against employment discrimination and harassment based upon race.
In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) assist with enforcing laws that forbid employment discrimination based on race, including workplace racial harassment and retaliation for complaining about race or color discrimination.
For its part, the EEOC enforces federal laws and can litigate lawsuits. For example, the EEOC sued a company that supplied onsite portable toilets alleging that a Black company driver endured racist comments, epithets and harassment from a supervisor and a co-worker during one and a half years of employment. According to a March 30, 2012 EEOC press release, the supervisor used the N-word to refer to the employee in conversation with others, and in another instance, made fun of white employees for performing worse on a work-related test. Further, a co-worker flaunted a swastika tattoo and talked about the need to keep the white race “pure.” After complaining a second time to his supervisor about the co-worker’s racist behavior, the employee was fired.
Racial epithets such as the N-word can demonstrate racial animus since that type of offensive language is a universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African Americans because of their race. Harassment based on race is demeaning and can deteriorate the work environment. Not only can racial harassment subject a person to emotional, physical and financial harm, but it can also make co-workers feel uncomfortable and distracted, contributing to lost interest in work, anxiety and a feeling that the work environment is unsafe.
According to the EEOC press release, the EEOC first attempted to resolve the lawsuit with the company through its voluntary conciliation process. After filing the racial harassment and retaliation lawsuit, EEOC attorneys resolved the case with the company which agreed to pay $50,000 to the driver. An EEOC attorney quoted in the press release, stated: “The law is clear: all employees have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation and ridicule.”
In Fiscal Year 2012, the EEOC reports that the agency received 33,512 charge filings alleging race-based discrimination. This accounted for 33.7 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC in Fiscal Year 2012. For Fiscal Year 2013, the EEOC reports that the agency received 33,068 charge filings alleging race-based discrimination, accounting for approximately 35 percent of the 93,727 charges filed with the EEOC in 2013.
Aside from federal or government employees and job applicants who may have different procedures to follow, an individual may, generally speaking, file a charge of employment discrimination based on race and harassment at the EEOC office closest to where the individual lives, but the charge of discrimination may be investigated at the EEOC office closest to where the race discrimination occurred. According to the EEOC website, the EEOC does not accept charges online, but it does accept charges by mail. In addition, one can check with a conveniently located EEOC office to determine what procedures walk-ins should follow for going to the office in person to file a charge of race discrimination and harassment.
Once the charge of discrimination is filed, the EEOC assigns a charge number. After that, the EEOC will also send a notice and copy of the charge to the employer. How the EEOC investigates the charge may depend on the facts of the case and the kind or type of information the EEOC needs to gather. In some cases, the EEOC investigator may make a site visit to the employer. In other cases, interviews may be conducted over the phone, in person or both. In addition, documents and information may be requested by mail. It is possible that the case may go through the EEOC’s mediation process before the investigation begins in order to see if the parties can resolve their disputes and settle the charge without an investigation. If the case does not resolve and the investigation occurs, the EEOC investigator usually asks the employer to provide a written response to the charge. After the investigation ends, the EEOC will let the person and employer know.
More information about the EEOC, the laws it enforces and the procedures one must follow in order to correctly file a charge of racial harassment is available in the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov . A Houston Office for the EEOC and filing of employment-related complaints about racial harassment is located at Total Plaza, 1201 Louisiana Street, 6th Floor, Houston, Texas 77002. It is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm. The phone number is listed as 1(800)669-4000.
When workplace racial harassment, including abusive racial slurs and epithets, occurs in Houston or elsewhere in Texas, people subjected to this type of hostile work environment may contact the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make charges of race discrimination and trigger state or federal investigations of racial harassment complaints. In addition, people subjected to unlawful workplace racial harassment may consult an attorney to discuss whether the facts and circumstances of the potential employment discrimination case support filing of a Texas racial harassment lawsuit.