Unlawful Work-Related Racial Harassment

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.  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.

As courts have observed, perhaps no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment than the use of the unambiguously racial epithet “ni**er”.  See, Rodgers v. Western-Southern Life Insurance Co., 12 F.3d 368 (7thCir.1993).  This racial epithet can demonstrate racial animus and is a universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African Americans because of their race.  Causey v. Sewell Cadillac-Chevrolet, Inc., 394 F.3d 285, 289, n.2 (5thCir.2004); Brown v. Mississippi Electric Power Association, 989 F.2d 858, 861 (5thCir.1993).

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) receive complaints of employment-related racial harassment.  For example, the EEOC reported in a January 27, 2014 press release that EEOC attorneys filed a racial harassment lawsuit against a worldwide labor contractor, charging that a black employee was subjected to racially offensive language, graffiti and death threats by white employees.

According to claims presented by the EEOC in the racial harassment lawsuit, two white co-workers came to the black employee’s home in the middle of the night and threatened to kill him if he made any more racial harassment complaints against other workers or with regard to racial graffiti.  EEOC attorneys further asserted in the lawsuit that the black employee reported the incident but the company refused to take appropriate action against the harassers because the incident occurred away from the worksite.

Racial harassment violates Title VII and EEOC attorneys filed the racial harassment lawsuit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through the EEOC conciliation process.  For its part, the EEOC enforces laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including workplace racial harassment that results in an abusive or hostile work environment.  As an EEOC attorney familiar with the case explained, the law requires employers to provide a safe workplace that is free of racial harassment and must promptly and effectively investigate all complaints of racial harassment, as well as take proper action.   As a result of the racial harassment lawsuit filed by EEOC attorneys, the company ultimately agreed to pay $50,000.00 and provide other relief to settle the case.

Prior to resolution of this case, the EEOC charged another transportation hauling company with allowing an environment of racial abuse and retaliation against an employee who complained.  According to its January 7, 2013 press release, a foreman and other employees of the heavy haul transportation company regularly used the N-word and made racial jokes and comments.  In that racial harassment lawsuit, the company also settled and the settlement included both monetary and remedial relief.  An EEOC attorney involved in that racial harassment lawsuit said, “[e]gregious racial harassment and retaliation are against the law, and employers must know that this type of conduct cannot be tolerated.”

Information about employment-related racial harassment can be obtained at the website of the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division.  In addition, further information about the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the laws it enforces is available on the EEOC website at www.eeoc.gov .

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.