Ethnic Slurs and Hostile Work Environment

The Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can receive and investigate charges or complaints racial and national origin harassment related to employment.

Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect individuals against employment discrimination and harassment. As explained by the Texas Workforce Commission, an employer may not discriminate against an employee or applicant in hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Further, Texas employers may not legally base employment decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits or the performance of individuals of certain groups.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division, 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. Employers also have a responsibility to maintain a workplace free of national origin harassment. The Texas Commission on Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, have been interpreted to prohibit requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment.

Like racist language and epithets, ethnic slurs can stigmatize, humiliate and degrade individuals, displaying an animus that has no place anywhere, including workplaces in Texas. An ethnic slur or other verbal or physical conduct because of an individual’s nationality may constitute harassment under employment conditions similar to situations giving rise to job-related racial harassment.

For its part, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on national origin harassment and discrimination.

For example, the EEOC reported in a September 30, 2013 press release that a bakery business violated federal law when the principal owner verbally abused an employee using ethnic slurs and racial slurs and then retaliated against the employee by suing her in small claims court for defamation when she filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. According to the EEOC, the harasser made insulting generalizations about Mexicans, used offensive epithets and attempted to force the employee to accept a lay-off before firing her when she would not. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination due to race or national origin and EEOC attorneys filed suit in federal court as a result.

In another case, the EEOC announced on July 3, 2012 that a sewing contractor would pay $75,000 and provide other relief to settle a national origin harassment lawsuit in which the company was charged with subjecting an employee to harassment because of his Hispanic national origin. As explained by the EEOC in its press release, the EEOC complaint charged that the employee, who had one Hispanic parent, was subjected to harassment from around July 2006 through June 2008, and, during that time, endured a co-worker’s derogatory comments such as wetback, half-breed and dumb, stupid Mexican. He complained but the harassment continued so he quit in order to escape the hostile environment. A trial attorney familiar with that case stated that employers have an obligation to address discrimination complaints and employees should never be subjected to an intolerable workplace so permeated with harassment that their only viable option is to quit.

Two EEOC harassment cases in Texas serve as further examples of conduct that constituted national origin harassment as alleged. On July 17, 2012, the EEOC settled a national origin harassment lawsuit against a West Texas oil field service company during trial. The EEOC lawsuit charged the Midland, Texas oil field company with subjecting three former oil rig workers to a hostile work environment based on their Mexican national origin. Allegations included a supervisor used slurs such as wetbacks and dirty Mexicans based on the oil rig workers Mexican heritage. The supervisor, who admitted to the nickname “Wetback Killer”, would deny the men water while working in the unrelenting West Texas heat, according to the EEOC. The settlement provided monetary and injunctive relief. A trial attorney working on that case called what happened to the men outrageous and hoped the settlement would send a message to the oil industry.

A year before the West Texas trial, the EEOC reported in an October 3, 2011 press release from Dallas that a national origin harassment lawsuit had been field on behalf of a class of Hispanic employees at a delivery company’s Dallas warehouse. Filed by EEOC attorneys in a North Texas federal court, the harassment lawsuit alleged that Hispanic employees at the Dallas warehouse were constantly subjected to taunts, demeaning slurs and derogatory names such as wetback, beaner, stupid Mexican, and, as to one Salvadoran worker, the label salvatrucha, which is a term referring to a gangster. An EEOC trial attorney familiar with the national origin harassment lawsuit was quoted as saying that the company “permitted management officials to harass and treat these employees differently” and “when confronted … responded by firing the union steward who simply tried to promote a healthy work environment by informing the company of the problem.”

Information about employment-related racial harassment and national origin harassment, including ethnic slur harassment, can be obtained at the website of the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. In addition, 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 or national origin harassment is available in the agency’s website at . 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.

Whether workplace racial or national origin harassment, including abusive racial or ethnic slurs, occurs in Beaumont, Houston or elsewhere in Texas, people subjected to this type of hostile work environment in Texas may contact the TWC or EEOC to make charges of discrimination and trigger state or federal investigations of racial harassment or national origin harassment complaints. In addition, people subjected to unlawful workplace racial harassment may consult an attorney to discuss whether the particular facts and circumstances of the potential employment discrimination case support filing of a racial harassment or ethnic slur harassment lawsuit.