Direct Evidence of Racist Remarks Dooms Employer Motion for Summary Judgment
A federal court in Tennessee denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an African-American employee’s race discrimination and hostile work environment claims under Title VII and state law. The decision was based in large part on the sheer volume of several supervisors’ alleged use of offensive, intimidating remarks. The record included evidence of frequent use of the “N word” in jokes and stories, a statement that the company hired African Americans during Black History month and fired them for Christmas as well as a pattern of other offensive, and racially derogatory statements by supervisors. The employee also claimed that he was: (a) denied equal pay raises and promotion opportunities by the same supervisors who made the offensive remarks, and (b) retaliated against after filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Although the employer denied plaintiff’s allegations, the Court ruled there were genuine issues of material fact as to the frequency, content, and volume of alleged discriminatory conduct. As a result, the Court denied the employer’s motion on the discrimination and harassment claims.
With regard to the retaliation claim, plaintiff pointed to six alleged retaliatory acts taken against him after he filed his EEOC charge, including his first written reprimand, locking him out of the timekeeping system, and harassment so extreme that he was forced to quit. Viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff (as courts do on summary judgment) – including the pattern of offensive supervisory conduct – the court denied the employer’s motion on the retaliation claim permitting the case to go to trial.
This case serves as a reminder that employers must train all supervisors and managers regarding workplace harassment and the liability that can be imposed on the company resulting from their remarks and conduct.