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Racism Persists in 'Inclusive' Cultures

June 9, 2010
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Related Topics: Staffing and the Law, Harassment, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
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Lockheed Martin has a long-established, award-winning diversity and inclusion program. Doug Williams walked out of a Lockheed Martin diversity training class in July 2003, grabbed a shotgun and a rifle from his pickup truck, shot dead one white and five black employees and wounded eight others, all black. Williams had a history of making racist remarks and threatening black co-workers.

Three years later, workers at another Lockheed Martin plant repeatedly threatened the life of a black co-worker, and the company failed to take action. In 2008, Lockheed Martin paid $2.5 million to settle the racial harassment charge brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“A number of employers have not built racial harassment training programs as strongly as their sexual harassment programs, and this needs to be corrected,” says Valerie Hoffman, who leads Seyfarth Shaw’s diversity practice group. “Employee training on racial harassment needs to be bolstered.”

Diversity and inclusion programs have proliferated over the past two decades, but the number of racial harassment charges filed at the EEOC has doubled.

YRC, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, defines diversity as “an inclusive collection of individuals and groups whose varied characteristics build a stronger workforce.” In December 2009, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the company for subjecting minority workers to hangman’s nooses, racist graffiti, and harsher discipline and more difficult jobs than given to their white co-workers.

In the same month, Bahama Breeze, a national restaurant chain, settled an EEOC racial harassment class-action lawsuit for $1.26 million alleging managers used racial epithets and slurs when addressing black employees.

In February 2010, Big Lots Inc., the nation’s largest closeout retailer, settled a $400,000 racial harassment charge alleging that a supervisor and employees used racial slurs to refer to black co-workers. The EEOC that month filed a racial harassment lawsuit against Pinnacle Amusements after black employees allegedly were subjected to a vice president’s racial epithets and the company failed to stop the harassment.

Home Depot’s extensive diversity and inclusion program includes a chief diversity officer, inclusion councils and affinity groups. “Diversity is the catalyst for innovative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit and new ways of building our communities,” according to the company’s diversity statement. Yet employees have reported dozens of hangman’s-noose incidents in Home Depot stores in recent years. The company has been the target of dozens of racial harassment lawsuits, including one that it settled for $125,000 after supervisors allegedly used racial slurs when addressing an employee.

While many companies have zero-tolerance policies for racial harassment, swift enforcement can be a key to curbing its proliferation.

After oil giant BP discovered a hangman’s noose at its Texas City refinery in December 2009, it launched an investigation in cooperation with local police, offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the perpetrator and told workers in a memo that any BP employee deemed responsible for displaying the noose would be fired.

Workforce Management, June 2010, p. 25 -- Subscribe Now!

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