I Better Watch My Wallet Around You: Pay $30,000 And Do Not Pass Go

A settlement of a racial harassment case brought by the EEOC under Title VII provides us with the opportunity for three takeaways today.

The EEOC had alleged that an Illinois bakery “fail[ed] to respond adequately” when a black employee made complaints of such harassment – that he suffered from co-workers’ “pervasive pattern of disparaging racial comments,” such as “persistent references” to black employees as “you people,” “Black people are lazy,” and “I better watch my wallet around you.”

The company settled for $30,000, “and other relief.”

Takeaway #1:  The “other relief” required when an employer settles a case with the EEOC is often not insignificant and should be factored into an employer’s risk analysis. In this case it consisted of requiring the employer to provide training to its employees on civility in the workplace, and to “institute a policy holding managers and supervisors responsible for preventing and stopping harassment in the workplace.”

Actually, this isn’t that strict a settlement – indeed, these are things that an employer is always well-advised to do in any event to prevent claims and lawsuits.

But in many, if not most, other cases that I have seen that are settled, the employer is ordered to report to the EEOC and becomes subject to EEOC oversight for a period of years – a fairly draconian penalty which most employers would rather avoid.

Takeaway #2:  An EEOC attorney said it best – “Employers are responsible for putting an end to co-worker harassment when they become aware of it.  That includes the responsibility to take seriously every allegation of race harassment, and then to investigate thoroughly and take appropriate actions to eliminate the misconduct.”

As always:  good workplace behavior starts at the top.  Be a good role model.  And have a “zero tolerance” attitude towards workplace harassment of any sort.

Takeaway #3:  Another EEOC attorney said it best – “Racial harassment is not limited to explicit racial slurs, and can include any offensive conduct directed toward an employee because of his race. Requiring an employee to endure persistent references to offensive racial stereotypes or jokes in the workplace is a violation of the law.”

Takeaway number 3 is particularly relevant to readers of this blog who have been subjected to a seemingly endless discussion of cases where the N-word and the noose are ubiquitous in the workplace. Takeaway number 3 is a reminder: while the N-word and the noose are intolerable and will likely result in legal action, “lesser” slurs, epithets and offensive conduct could also wind up before the EEOC and/or a court.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]