- A Texas construction company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "when it fostered a work environment rife with racist comments and discriminatory work conditions" at a New York construction site in 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit that it announced last week.
- EEOC said in a statement that supervisors and employees at San Antonio, Texas-based CCC Group Inc. used racial slurs and threatened black employees with nooses, among other things.
- The federal agency also said black employees were given more "physically taxing and dangerous work" than their white counterparts, including being assigned outdoor work in winter while white employees worked inside.
Title VII prohibits harassment based on race, among other protected characteristics. While an EEOC guidance makes clear that petty slights, annoyances and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of actionable harassment, employers generally are expected to investigate employee complaints and take action to prevent misconduct in the future.
"Employers need to proactively prevent any behavior that creates a racially hostile workplace," Jeffrey Burstein, an attorney for the EEOC's New York District Office said in the statement announcing the CCC Group lawsuit. "Here there were numerous examples of abhorrent racial discrimination and harassment. The use of a noose is especially vicious. Such misconduct violates federal law and common decency."
Air Systems Inc., a San Jose, California-based electrical subcontractor, violated federal law by tolerating racial harassment of African-American workers at the Apple Park construction project in Cupertino, California, the EEOC charged in a lawsuit last year. The harassment occurred between June 2016 and September 2017 when the affected employees were laid off.
According to EEOC's suit, the harassment from individual workers included racist graffiti including swastikas and epithets drawn on the walls of the portable toilets around the jobsite, as well as a noose hung at the worksite with a scrawled note containing use of the racial insults, other expletives and a threat of lynching. The company allegedly failed to act when notified by two African-American employees that a white coworker had taunted them with a racial slur.
Human resources departments should make sure that a robust reporting system is in place, experts say. Moreover, complaint procedures should allow employees to report concerns to more than one person, in case an immediate supervisor or HR rep is the alleged harasser, EEOC has said.
Employers also need to follow up on employee complaints with a prompt and good-faith investigation of allegations and take swift and appropriate action where needed, according to employment law attorneys.
Compliance training also may be crucial in preventing discrimination and harassment claims, HR experts say. They suggest that employers conduct harassment training at least once a year, with separate sessions for managers and employees.
Jean Dimeo added to this report.