Offensive Graffiti and Racial Harassment Lawsuit

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Employment-related racial harassment can occur in a variety of workplaces. According to a June 2013 press release by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, offensive graffiti in a food distributor’s men’s room remained up for weeks and led to an employment discrimination lawsuit that ended last year with a judge entering a consent decree settling the case for monetary and other relief.

Claims made in the racial harassment lawsuit included complaints about graffiti that read “N*****’s STINK” in a men’s restroom, N-word graffiti, a swastika and reference to the Ku Klux Klan. An EEOC attorney involved with the racial harassment lawsuit commented that racial hatred has no place anywhere in America and that the EEOC is committed to eradicating race discrimination in the workplace.

This type of alleged misconduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits race discrimination, including racial harassment.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can receive and investigate charges or complaints of racial harassment related to employment. Information about the EEOC and federal laws the EEOC enforces is available at the EEOC website: www.eeoc.gov .

In Texas, both Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect individuals against employment discrimination and harassment based upon race. As explained by the Texas Workforce Commission in its website at www.twc.state.tx.us/crd/racial-discrimination.html , 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 racial 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. Accordingly, both 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 environments.

With respect to racial discrimination related to one’s work, 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.

This type of unlawful conduct is not restricted to particular places of employment. Instead, it can arise within a myriad of different employment settings. For example, the EEOC reported in a November 30, 2012 press release that agency attorneys settled a racial harassment lawsuit against a trucking company. In that racial harassment lawsuit, the trucking company was charged with failing to take prompt and effective action to end harassment that included a dispatcher name calling a Black truck driver using offensive and derogatory terms such as gorilla, porch monkey and N-word.

According to claims presented in the case, other truck drivers witnessed the racial harassment, and one white co-worker even complained to management, but the employers failed to take immediate and effective action and the harassment continued, resulting ultimately in a lawsuit and settlement of the case for monetary relief and a consent decree that required, among other things, annual anti-harassment training and the positing of notices concerning the lawsuit.

An EEOC attorney commented on the lawsuit, saying “[a]ll employees have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation, and ridicule”, and, in this case, “the companies failed to live up to their responsibility to provide a workplace free of racial hostility.” As another EEOC official made clear, employers who receive notice of racial harassment should take prompt and effective measures to investigate, stop any unlawful conduct and discipline those found responsible.

Information about employment-related racial harassment can be obtained at the websites of the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Whether workplace racial harassment, including abusive racial slurs and epithets, 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 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 racial harassment lawsuit.

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