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Court Upholds $550,000 Verdict For Racial Abuse

March 25, 2008
Related Topics: Harassment
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Greg Goldsmith, an African-American elevator maintenance worker in Birmingham, Alabama, filed an EEOC charge against his employer, Bagby Elevator Co. Inc. Goldsmith alleged that his supervisor, Ron Farley, regularly referred to African-Americans in insulting and racist language. Goldsmith testified that Farley told a white employee, "Them niggers are crazy. Some of the dumbest niggers I have ever seen." At a store with an African-American employee, Farley told the store clerk, "Look, I bought me a slave." When Goldsmith complained, he was told to accept it.

    Bagby’s employee handbook included an anti-discrimination policy, but the company’s president testified that he was not that familiar with it and was unsure how he would discipline an employee for a violation.

    In response to the EEOC charge, Bagby required all employees to sign an agreement requiring all past, present and future claims to be arbitrated. When Goldsmith refused to sign the agreement as written, he was terminated. He then filed a new retaliation charge. A U.S. District Court jury awarded Goldsmith $54,321 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta upheld the jury’s award, finding that the employer’s reckless indifference to the employee’s civil rights justified the award.

    The 11th Circuit noted the case provided "an important reminder: despite considerable racial progress, racism persists as an evil to be remedied in our Nation." Goldsmith v. Bagby Elevator Co. Inc., 11th Cir., No. 06-14440 (1/17/08).

    Impact: It not sufficient for an employer to simply have a policy and complaint procedure addressing unlawful harassment in the workplace. Employers are advised to communicate their policies, conduct effective training of employees, promptly investigate suspected harassment issues and take steps to put an end to such conduct.

Workforce Management, March 17, 2008, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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